Are you concerned about using AI content as part of your content strategy, fearful that it might result in a Google penalty of some kind?
We’ve put together this piece to try and finally answer the question based on real-world experience.
Is it possible to get penalised for using AI content?
Yes, it is possible to get penalised for using AI content, especially if the content is considered to be thin, or produced solely for the benefit of targeting organic traffic.
Google has been very clear about the risks of putting thin content on your website, and even before AI content rose in prominence during the past year or so, there were penalties that would actively target thin content. Panda was one such update that was said to target sites producing thin content.
And now that many more people are making use of ChatGPT and similar to produce AI generated content, Google is only going to crackdown even harder on sites that are producing low quality, solely SEO-focussed traffic. This is a really serious problem, and may be one of Google’s trickiest challenges to date.
What is thin content?
Thin content are pages with very little valuable, authentic content. It might be a page that contains lots of content (having a high word count for example) but ultimately they fall short on providing a useful experience for any readers.
If you were to categorise thin content, you might like to think of these content types as being at a higher risk:
– Scraped web content (like a directory with little to no additional content)
– Doorway pages (pages created solely to get people to enter a website, like local landing pages)
– Affiliate product pages (containing details of products but no original content).
In terms of your own website, if you think you’ve created content solely with the intention of targeting search volumes, and you’ve not invested any kind of time in adding value to the content (aka it’s been scraped from another source, or has been generated entirely using AI) then it’s fair to say it could be classed as being thin content.
One of the challenges for business owners is that thin content is a fairly vague concept, and it’s meaning may vary from person to person. It’s best to err on the side of caution when it comes to assessing your own content. Go above and beyond in trying to provide as much value to your site audience as possible.
Has anyone ever been hit by a Google penalty for producing AI content?
It’s hard to answer this with complete certainty as Google never comes out and says “yes we hit X site with a penalty for producing AI content” but at the same time, many people on social media believe if you are actively shouting and sharing about using AI content to “fool” Google somehow, and share your own URL, you’re putting yourself in a very dangerous position.
There was a big case of this happening recently when someone was promoting their AI tool called Byword. They shared an example of how their AI tool had created thousands of pages by scraping a competitors XML sitemap before turning all their articles into “spun” or AI generated versions.
They then published this AI content in bulk, and claimed that this strategy had helped the brand to grow their organic traffic by nearly half a million within 6 months.
We pulled off an SEO heist that stole 3.6M total traffic from a competitor.— Jake Ward (@jakezward) November 24, 2023
We got 489,509 traffic in October alone.
Here's how we did it: pic.twitter.com/sTJ7xbRjrT
After sharing this story, and leaking the URL of the site in question, SEOs started noticing that the site in question has recently started a massive nosedive and so it looks like either Google’s algorithm has caught up with the site and is demoting it for many of those queries, or they were hit by a manual Google penalty.
Organic traffic drop for Causal.app – the site that had made use of AI content
It’s hard to say for sure what happened but it’s clear that Google has caught up with this site and it’s use of 100% AI-generated content, and as a result their organic traffic is dropping at great speed.
Whilst this is just one example, it’s obvious that Google is working hard to make sure the search results don’t get flooded by completely AI generated content. So, if you’re relying on this as part of your content strategy, you will need to be really careful to avoid being hit.
How to avoid getting hit by a Google penalty when using AI content?
There’s a lot you can do here to avoid a potential penalty or algorithmic SEO drop if you’re keen to continue using AI content.
Firstly, avoid publishing anything that is entirely AI generated. There will be some tell-tale signs, and you don’t want to be responsible for polluting the web. You will always want to be adding your own personal insights or expertise, not relying fully on AI. It’s OK to use AI in part, but just don’t lean on it too heavily. Editing your content to humanise it and add more personal touches is important.
On top of this, try to weave in real life experiences that AI might not have knowledge of. This again helps to personalise content and gives you a leg-up vs AI content. It can also help your readers to make a stronger connection with your content.
Try to ask yourself whether you are using AI to target topics solely because there is an associated search volume. If that is the main reason for it’s usage, you may be coming at it from the wrong angle – and putting yourself at risk.
Ask yourself instead about targeting people who might be interested in the services you provide, or the products you sell. Move away from chasing traffic just for the sake of it.
Avoiding Google penalties whilst making use of AI content like ChatGPT
Have you jumped on the AI content bandwagon? Whilst it’s clearly not going away anytime soon, you need to take care to avoid any Google penalties. These may end up setting you back, wasting your time and energy in the process.
Try to think long term and with sustainability in mind when it comes to using tools like ChatGPT. Whilst they are very powerful and helpful tools, by relying solely on these you may end up harming your SEO efforts.
Use common sense and whatever you do, avoid using AI tools that take competitor sitemaps and spin up their own versions of the same articles!