Does Google Penalize AI Content?
With the increased use of AI tools for creating content, questions have been mounting about compliance with Google's guidelines and the potential impact on SEO.
Is AI-generated content spam? Will Google penalize you for it?
Read on to have all your questions answered, starting with the most important...
Does Google allow AI content?
Yes, Google allows AI-generated content if it doesn’t violate their guidelines, specifically those regarding spam. Google allows AI content according to the same rules, principles, and standards as content from any other source.
Google made it's official position clear in a Search Central blog post, published on February 8, 2023.
What does Google say about AI content?
Google has stated that the appropriate use of AI-generated content is not against their guidelines. Google has also stated that it considers automation to be a long-standing and useful way to create helpful and original content, and that it primarily judges the quality of content rather than how it was produced.
However, Google has emphasized that such content should still meet their quality standards, being helpful and trustworthy, and not spammy or manipulative. Anyone using AI writing tools should familiarize themselves with Google's guidelines and make sure their content meets Google’s standards.
Is AI-generated content good for SEO?
AI-generated content is not inherently better or worse for SEO. It can be good for SEO depending on how well it conforms to Google’s quality standards, how helpful it is to users, and how it compares to the competition. The primary benefit of AI-generated content for SEO is as a time-saving tool.
Is AI-Generated Content Safe For SEO?
Artificial intelligence has come a long way in the past few years, and it's no secret that AI-generated content is starting to take center stage in digital marketing. SEO and marketing professionals have also been clamoring to understand the impact that new AI-assisted writing tools will have on the industry.
One long-running concern has been whether or not AI-generated content falls afoul of Google’s guidelines against spam content.
The question on everyone's mind has been: is AI-generated content good for SEO?
And we can now say that the answer is: It depends, but not because it's AI-generated.
Not clear enough? We agree, so keep reading because in this blog post we'll be taking a deep dive into Google's evolving position and guidelines regarding AI-generated content for search engines.
Google Against AI-Generated Content
Back in April 2022, Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller, caused quite a stir when, in response to a Q&A query, he stated that AI-generated content is against Google's webmaster guidelines and would therefore be considered spam.
You can view the exchange on YouTube starting at 22:12, or play the video below to see Mueller's answer:
Here is some of what Mueller said in the Q&A when asked about using AI writing tools:
"For us these would, essentially, still fall into the category of automatically generated content which is something we’ve had in the Webmaster Guidelines since almost the beginning. … My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines. So we would consider that to be spam."
Mueller was also reticent about Google’s ability to detect such content, but emphasized that, if found, it could be subject to action.
This stance from Google should not have surprised anyone, as they had been saying similar things for sometime. This older article from Search Engine Land provides a decent timeline of Google’s official comments on the matter.
And of course, the references were usually back to Google’s Developer Guidelines, which were apparently unambiguous in their stance against “auto-generated content”.
However, even with the repeated statements, many felt like the issue was far from settled.
To begin with, the quality of current-generation AI writers far exceeds what Mueller seemed to have in mind. To wildly understate the matter, free-tools like ChatGPT are more than “a little better” than the old synonym-changer and translation tools that Mueller is referencing.
Mueller also said that he could see AI being used as an acceptable aid to writing in the future, perhaps not aware that AI writing tools were already being extensively used in that way.
Was Mueller simply out of touch with the current state of AI technology?
Google’s original guidelines and subsequent interpretations came from a time when algorithmically generated content was almost universally bad and this tendency probably led to the perception that auto-generated content just wasn't likely to be as useful or valuable as human-written content.
However, recent developments in AI have created content-generation tools that really offer something new, being able to produce content with quality that’s on a par with human-produced work. Why would Google object to a tool that makes it easier for people to produce better content?
Many professionals in the industry were already thinking this and found Google’s apparently hardline position to be a little perplexing.
Now it’s not clear if they were inspired by the buzz around Mueller’s statements, or if they had all these changes in the works for a while, but Google seemed to start changing its position soon after…
Google’s Changing Guidelines on Auto-Generated Content
As mentioned, Google repeatedly referred back to its developer guidelines (previously webmaster guidelines) to clarify its position on AI-generated content...
As Mueller stated, AI-generated content was auto-generated content and so, according to their developer guidelines, it counted as spam.
However, shortly after those statements and still in April 2022, Google updated one of the “avoid the following techniques” examples in its webmaster guidelines. The given example went from being simply “automatically generated content” to “automatically generated content intended to manipulate search rankings” (emphasis added).
Of course this change was simply adding information that could already be found in the more specific quality guidelines section, but it still gave some sense that Google was starting to pay attention to the nuances of its position.
Then, sometime in October 2022, Google made significant changes regarding what kind of automatically-generated content fell under its spam policies.
In the list of things that Google considers spam, “Auto-generated content” including “text generated through automated processes” was changed to “Spammy automatically generated content” including “text generated through automated processes without regard for quality or user experience” (emphasis added).
“Spammy automatically generated (or "auto-generated") content is content that's been generated programmatically without producing anything original or adding sufficient value; instead, it's been generated for the primary purpose of manipulating search rankings and not helping users.”
So it seems at some point Google felt it needed to clarify that auto-generated content was spam only when it was…spammy.
Around the same time that these changes were made, Google was rolling out what people were calling “The October Spam Update” - an update in Google’s ranking algorithm that seemed to directly target AI-generated content.
Google Clarifies Its Position on AI-Generated Content
In the wake of the October Spam Update, in November 2022, Danny Sullivan (Google’s public Search Liaison) tweeted:
“We haven't said AI content is bad. We've said, pretty clearly, content written primarily for search engines rather than humans is the issue. That's what we're focused on.”
And in the follow-up thread he clarified:
“So if you're an SEO trying to figure out how AI fits in with being successful or not on Google, you're too focused on the tool not the content. Is the content you're producing helpful, reliable and people-first in nature? That's what we're looking for.”
In a reply to another Tweet in January 2023, Google’s issued the following statement from its official Search Liaison account:
As said before when asked about AI, content created primarily for search engine rankings, however it is done, is against our guidance. If content is helpful & created for people first, that's not an issue.https://t.co/3rs3Yrrrk1https://t.co/TlFEbdXGAphttps://t.co/Yl9XWr5CAN pic.twitter.com/gFTE2C2wq1— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 12, 2023
Going on to say...
“For anyone who uses *any method* to generate a lot content primarily for search rankings, our core systems look at many signals to reward content clearly demonstrating E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).”
So it seemed like Google was increasingly emphasizing that it didn't care so much about how content was created specifically.
This makes sense given that content these days is less often the product of single authors sitting at their typewriters. Translators, spell checkers, and AI-driven editing software are all taking a hand in generating and shaping what appears on the web, and no one is sitting out this change, least of all Google.
And then, finally, Google put the issue to bed with an official statement about AI-generated content, appearing on its Google Search Central Blog dated February 8, 2023.
Here are some of the key points regarding Google's official stance on AI content:
- The use of AI or automation is not against guidelines if that use is "appropriate"
- Inappropriate use is that which violates spam policies or is intended primarily to manipulate rankings
- AI content will be subject to the same standards as any other content
- Google will continue to rely on systems like SpamBrain to detect spam, whether created by humans or AI
So it seems like the challenge of using AI-generated content for SEO is the same as SEO itself: how do you make high-quality content that has the best chance to rank well?
Or, put differently...
How Should You Use AI For SEO?
AI-generated content can save time by quickly producing relatively high-quality content. With the ability to generate human-like text in social media posts to blog articles, AI has proven itself a valuable tool for online marketing. For many, this potential is just too tempting to ignore.
But, at the end of the day, the principles for search ranking success haven’t changed. The goal should always be to produce content that fits and satisfies the intent of readers. In order to use AI-generated content successfully, you should focus on creating original and useful content that builds on your authority and expertise.
To do this, AI-generated content should always be monitored and reviewed to ensure that it meets these standards in line with SEO best practices.
It might also help to pay attention to some of the words that Google has repeatedly used in their guidelines and statements on AI-generated content. These include “quality”, “originality”, “value”, “user-experience”, “helpful”, and Google’s own acronym E-E-A-T standing for “experience, expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness”.
“Helpfulness” is a key concept that has come up again and again in Google’s discussion on AI-generated content, and “helpfulness” is now a big part of how Google understands quality, as seen in its Helpful Content Update rolled out in August 2022.
What Is "Helpful Content" According to Google?
Google considers "helpful content" to be content that is well-written, clear, trustworthy, well sourced, authoritative, original, and valuable to readers. These are partially based on an assessment of your site as a whole, whether it conveys an overall sense of expertise in a certain area, with comprehensive information or insightful analysis.
That’s a lot to consider!
But don't worry, it’s unlikely that Google requires you to hit every single beat of what they say they want. That would be almost impossible.
Thankfully, Google have provided a guide to helpful content, including a long list of questions you can ask of your content to help you meet those standards.
Note that in the above guidelines, Google says that answering “yes” to “Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?” means “you should reevaluate how you’re creating content”.
Make of that what you will!
Can Google detect AI content?
Right now it’s not clear what Google’s capabilities are for detecting AI-generated content. However, their current ability is likely to be limited, incomplete or difficult to implement at scale. As such, Google’s primary method for detecting AI content is probably via normal ranking signals.
This fits with Google’s claims that they are not against AI-content per se, but rather AI-content that is low-quality, manipulative, or spammy. However, as Google's algorithms get more sophisticated, they will eventually be able to accurately detect almost any AI-generated content and might subject it to more intense scrutiny in the future.
Does Google punish AI content?
AI-generated content will be penalized for the same reasons as any other content. Google may penalize AI-generated writing if it violates its quality guidelines. For example, if the content is spammy, unhelpful, low-quality, or manipulative.
However, as Google’s ability to detect AI-generated content improves, it may be subject to extra scrutiny in the future.
What is AI content?
AI content refers to content that is created or generated using artificial intelligence technology. It could be text, images, videos, or audio content. AI content can be produced quickly and in large quantities, but is subject to concerns over originality, accuracy, and harm.
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