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AI-Generated Content vs. Custom Content: Is it too early to make the call?

Business + Digital Marketing + SEO + SEM + Content and copywriting
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We’ve all seen a lot of change in our lifetime. It used to be that the longer you lived, the more change you would see. And sure, this is still true. But with the growing pace of change, particularly around tech and communications, a toddler is iterating their comms platforms at a rate you once had to live through entire decades to experience. Every year we have a big thing that shakes up the norms with such veracity that it quickly becomes a new norm; one of those additions to life that we almost immediately forget what it was like without it.

This year, it’s AI. In particular, ChatGPT. As the copywriter at Zimple, you can bet I was a hard no on this little device threatening my existence. A COMPUTER CANNOT DO MY JOB, has said every person who had a job a computer now does. But, while I’ll concede I have warmed to the program for certain uses, the dive from ‘here’s this new thing we’ve released’ to now having ‘chat AI experts’ promote their not-free e-books on the subject feels a bit like jumping into water without checking the depth. Sure, it’s showing some genuine purpose, but we don’t know yet how AI content will work long term for SEO and SERP. Or, more importantly, in delivering the value consumers require to have it worth their precious time. 

As far as our old friend Google goes, there’s no solid understanding of how it’s addressing AI. However, there are indicators that custom, valuable content is still a major focus (phew! For now…). 

Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU)

In August 2022, Google introduced the Helpful Content Update (HCU), a site-wide ranking signal designed to target unhelpful content on websites. This weighted signal can significantly impact sites with content classified as unhelpful, leading to severe penalties and significant drops in search rankings. The HCU serves as Google's secret weapon to combat low-quality content, particularly AI-generated content, which has been increasingly prevalent in recent years. 

Understanding the HCU Update

The HCU was initially created to address the growing concern of unhelpful content cluttering search results. Websites featuring low-quality, irrelevant, or AI-generated content were specifically targeted. As a continuously running check, the HCU constantly evaluates and reassesses the helpfulness of content on a site, meaning that penalties can persist for extended periods until the content is reclassified and deemed helpful again.

Impact on Sites and Recovery Process

When a website is hit by the HCU update, it experiences a significant drop in search rankings, resulting in reduced organic traffic and visibility. This can be a massive blow for businesses and content creators who rely heavily on search engine traffic for their online success. Recovery from an HCU penalty can be a time-consuming and challenging process, potentially taking months for a site to regain its former rankings. This underscores the importance of producing high-quality, useful content that aligns with users' needs and expectations.

AI-Generated Content vs. Custom Content

AI-generated content, powered by sophisticated language models like OpenAI's GPT-3.5, has seen a surge in usage due to its ability to generate vast amounts of text quickly and efficiently. It has been employed across various applications, from chatbots and customer support to content creation for websites and blogs. While AI-generated content can be a valuable tool in automating certain processes, it also raises concerns about the quality and authenticity of the information provided.

Quality and Uniqueness

Custom content, created by human authors, often offers a more authentic and original perspective. It can be tailored to suit a brand's voice, tone, and expertise, thereby building trust and authority with the audience. In contrast, AI-generated content, though proficient in mimicking human language, may lack the unique insights and personal touch that custom content can provide.

Relevance and Understanding

Custom content creators possess a deeper understanding of their subject matter and target audience. They can craft content that addresses specific pain points, answers niche queries, and delivers relevant information. On the other hand, AI-generated content relies on patterns and data from the internet, which might lead to generic or inaccurate responses, especially when dealing with complex or specialized topics.

Ethical Concerns

The rise of AI-generated content has raised ethical questions regarding transparency and disclosure. Readers have the right to know whether they are engaging with content generated by an AI system or written by a human. Proper attribution and disclosure are essential to maintain the trust of the audience.

The Future of HCU and AI-Generated Content

Google's plan to evolve the HCU update to promote high-quality content suggests that AI-generated content may not always be at odds with search engine algorithms. As AI technology advances, it is likely that AI-generated content will improve in quality and relevance. However, for now, the emphasis should be on producing custom content that genuinely adds value to users and meets their needs.

The Helpful Content Update (HCU) introduced by Google has significantly impacted websites with unhelpful content, including AI-generated content. As the HCU continues to evolve, it underscores the importance of creating high-quality, custom content that resonates with the audience and aligns with their needs. While AI-generated content offers automation benefits, it cannot fully replace the authentic insights and understanding provided by human authors. Striking a balance between AI-generated content and custom content will be crucial for businesses and content creators aiming to maintain a strong online presence in the face of ever-changing search engine algorithms.

Other factors to consider when it comes to AI content

Are industries going to find themselves duplicating copy?

Unlike if you were to go to a competitor site and copy and paste their content onto your site (tsk tsk! We know you’d never do that…), AI is instead pulling all the information it can gather from pre September 2021 and offer you a curated content block that aligns with your requested tone of voice, intent, audience (basically, whatever you’ve included in your message to ChatGPT. You and your competitors might not initially, intuitively, ask for the exact same information written the exact same way, so there is reasonable assumption a word for word duplication isn’t a risk (particularly for things like About, Team and Processes page).. 

However, as the use of AI continues, areas like FAQs become tricky. Often, this is the snippet result in search, with the most valuable answer taking the snippet position (ok, not a perfect science, we know. But, the intent is that it’s the most valuable). FAQs have a higher likelihood of being verbatim (or close to), and we can reasonably assume we’d start to see exact replications for same-industry businesses. If FAQs are springboards for blogs, while there will be variations on results based on how specific and in-depth the message to AI is (and yes, we will all get better at this), the omittance of opinion and conjecture, personal experience and valuable insights only a human (at this stage) can produce, will dilute the value to the consumer. 

This isn't to say AI won’t get there. I do not want to be one of those humans so stuck in their ways that they grossly underestimate robots and end up shackled to some glass cage (I have barely thought about this… barely). But, as at right now, AI has its limits against the complexity, connection and timeliness in human-generated content.

If this is my last blog, I wish AI all the best. It’s been a ride. **Searches ‘industries that definitely, for sure, robots won’t take over, but will need and keep me alive**.