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Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update: What’s New?

October 2nd, 2023 Posted by AI 0 comments on “Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update: What’s New?”

Google has introduced the September 2023 Helpful Content Update, bringing forth two significant changes to the way Google evaluates and ranks websites.

Highlights

  • Google loosened its guidance on content generated with AI
  • The system is taking strong measures against third-party content hosted on a main website or subdomain
  • Changing publishing dates and replacing older content to trick Google into thinking your content is newer and more helpful doesn’t help at all
  • If your content/site tanks after the rollout, you should self-assess and remove low-quality content

As part of its commitment to delivering more helpful content to users, Google continues to refine its algorithms. The last major system update was in December 2022, and the new September 2023 update rolled out over the course of the next two weeks. By the end of September, it was fully implemented.

Google’s Helpful Content System

robot-hand-writing

In the pursuit of creating a more user-centric web environment, Google introduced its Helpful Content System in August 2022. It primarily aims to reward web content that is original, helpful, and contains valuable information.

Content generated with AI or robotic automation that does not provide any useful value to the user will generally be penalized (though you don’t necessarily need AI to write bad content).

Helpful content is:

  • useful
  • reliable
  • people-first

Essentially, Google’s automated ranking systems identify numerous signals from web content that indicate these criteria.

If yours meets them, you’ll rank higher.

And if you’re writing solely for the purpose of manipulating search engines? It’ll catch that, too.

What is the September 2023 update about?

In a tweet from Google Search Central, the company revealed that its Helpful Content System will have “an improved classifier” to better identify and reward helpful content.

Here’s a breakdown of what that means:

Less strict guidance on AI-generated content

After a year of the internet arguing about whether or not Google can ~detect AI~ (or even cares), it finally put those claims to rest.

In a subtle yet substantial shift, Google has amended the wording in its official description of ‘helpful content’ by omitting the phrase “written by people.”

Now, the company simply defines the term as “original, helpful content created for people in search results.”

We don’t see this as an endorsement of AI-generated content, per se. But it’s certainly an admission that Google doesn’t care how you write it, provided it maintains the aforementioned standard of usefulness and relevance to the user.

So, if using AI tools helps you write better and faster, then by all means, use them. But don’t get too trigger-happy — you aren’t getting anywhere with SEO by posting hundreds of lame 500-word blogs. You still need to hire a good writer (or be one yourself).

Also remember that Google still cares where your content comes from. Don’t copy/paste from other sources or websites (and double-check your AI content for this). This has always led to penalties.

Third-party content hosted on your site/subdomains

The importance of originality brings us to Google’s next focus: Third-party content on your site.

Common examples of third-party content include:

  • News sites hosting press releases from external sources
  • Personal blogs featuring guest posts or articles written by someone else
  • Ecommerce websites carrying product descriptions and images sourced from a third-party vendor
  • Affiliate partners publishing content on your website

Google is now taking measures to better identify content that is not original to the website. This content will also be included in sitewide signals (including those for helpfulness) its algorithm generates.

This could negatively impact your site if you host lots of third-party content.

According to Google, you won’t be punished for hosting it, but you should block it from being indexed if it wasn’t posted with significant oversight or is contextually irrelevant to the main domain.

Changing and updating your web content

Replacing content and changing the publish date to make a piece appear more ‘fresh’ are two of the oldest tricks in the book. SEOs and website owners have been doing this for years because they think ‘freshness’ helps their content rank.

Google didn’t say its system would penalize this. It just flat-out said, “It doesn’t.”

So, if you’re practicing this to boost your rankings, don’t bother. You won’t get any SEO points for it. In fact, if you do it wrong, you could end up with an actual penalty or notice from Google instead — so be careful.

Did an expert review your content?

Another subtle change to Google’s official wording is the inclusion of the word “reviewed” to its sentence:

“Is this content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?”

This means your writer could theoretically be anonymous, as long as you indicate the expert who reviewed it (though it’s a good idea to work with writers who are knowledgeable in the topic, too).

This addition is consistent with Google’s omission of the words “written by people” and apparent acceptance of AI-assisted content.

How to recover from a potential hit

downward-trend-thumbs-down

If your content tanks after the rollout, Google says the best thing you can do is self-assess and remove low-quality content.

That said, you don’t need to go on a deleting spree. You should be able to grow your rankings back by updating/improving your existing content.

This means looking for ways to:

  • add more value and insights
  • replace generalist statements with concrete data
  • remove content that is no longer true or relevant
  • cite expert sources and verify facts

You should also focus on the overall user experience, which factors into how helpful Google sees your content as. Are your page load times slow? Is the content easy to scan and read? Is it engaging enough to keep visitors on the page for more than a few seconds?

The bottom line

September’s Helpful Content System update doesn’t mean much to you if already add continuous value through your content. If your articles and perspective get good engagement (and conversions), keep doing what you’re doing!

And if your content strategy consists of machine-spun articles with minimal human oversight, you’ve probably noticed none of that garbage converts anyway.

In that sense, updates like these are really just giving Googlers (including you) more of what they want: real, genuine answers to real, genuine questions.

If a few pages on your site take a hit, reread them for accuracy, value, and context. Google offers a list of more than 15 questions you can ask yourself to help you assess the quality of your content.

Bottom line: Keep producing content that represents you, your brand, and your audience, and should be OK! And for those who need to worry? You know who you are…

 

ChatGPT AI Generated Content Limitations

Writing With Robots: Overcoming the Limitations of AI-Generated Content

September 13th, 2023 Posted by AI 0 comments on “Writing With Robots: Overcoming the Limitations of AI-Generated Content”
Copywriters, here's the TL;DR: ChatGPT isn't coming for your jobs. But it is changing them. Quickly.

When most non-marketers talk about ChatGPT and other AI-generated content platforms, they immediately assume the same thing they do about automation as a whole: that it will replace everyone’s jobs.

McKinsey predicts that 45 million Americans will lose their jobs to automation by 2030, and many other reputable research firms publish research with similar findings.

Although mainstream, the fear of robot-driven mass unemployment is often exaggerated. ChatGPT—a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that can generate content from inputted data—won’t replace copywriters.

It will, however, shift their job roles.

This article looks closely at ChatGPT, its limitations, and how to make your content stand out from the growing crowd of boring, monotonous, AI-generated pieces.

What Is AI Copywriting, and How Does It Work?

AI copywriting technology generates content based on user input. It uses natural language processing (NLP) and neural networks to produce content that mimics human writing.

ChatGPT—the OpenAI-backed Elon Musk affiliate—is the most recent and popular iteration. Although marketers have been using tools like these for years, business owners are now beginning to take note.

ChatGPT gets its name from its two primary features: Chat and GPT-4 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). 

The latter is a powerful language model that can produce human-like writing when given inputted data. 

The former is, well, chat. 

Put simply, it works like this:

  • The user creates the prompt based on their desired output
  • They hit “Enter”
  • The GPT-4 algorithm then produces content from the data given

For example, if you provide it with the words “content creation,” it could generate a written piece about how to create blog content.

The Limitations of GPT-4

On its own, ChatGPT seems like a copywriter’s worst nightmare. After all, why pay for a human when you can get an AI to do it?

But watching a text generator write a blog and thinking, “this is definitely the future,” is akin to thinking, “this car has four wheels, so it must be a Lamborghini.”

Copywriting is a complex craft, and there are certain tasks that AI simply cannot do as well as humans—yet.

Limited grammar and vocabulary range.

GPT-4 generators write with a limited grammar range and vocabulary, meaning they may not be able to convey complex concepts in an ideal manner.

Asking an AI chat generator to talk about Ox Media gave us a general overview of our services. Although the lack of context in the prompt yields non-factual results (another limitation), that isn’t exactly the point here.

The main issue here is that the vocabulary repeats itself. Starting two sentences in a row with “Ox Media” and using “AI technologies” twice are two examples of how AI struggles with variation in language, something a human copywriter could easily avoid.

Lack of understanding of customer psychology

ChatGPT won’t sit down with your company and think through customer engagement tactics—and that’s a key part of copywriting.

Where a copywriter can look at sales and marketing data to craft language that speaks to customer emotions, ChatGPT relies on the data it is given to generate content.

It cannot organically think of ways that your words can really grab readers’ attention and take them on a journey. It simply regurgitates what you put in.

The need to produce output at all costs

When you hit “Enter,” GPT-4 generators are designed to write something, regardless of its relevance or quality. This means that the content generated may not be relevant to your target audience—or even make sense. Especially when it comes to dates, your content definitely requires a double-check for accuracy.

ChatGPT output AI statistics

These statistics, for example, are helpful for guidance on where to look and how to interpret data for your article, but they aren’t at all that helpful or relevant. The September 2021 data cutoff renders most of what is written here useless.

That said, copy/pasting these stats into Google will usually turn up relevant studies from these sources, which you can use in your content.

Phrase usage makes it detectable as non-human

In their quest to detect machine-generated content, researchers have discovered certain patterns that can reveal its unnatural sound. One of these characteristics is the lack of idioms—phrases or sayings with a figurative meaning attached to them (e.g., “every cloud has a silver lining”).

Instead of using descriptive language that shows its use cases, this AI-generated paragraph describes natural language processing and semantic analysis as “options” rather than fundamental components of the software. This immediately indicates a lack of human touch to readers.

Now, your readers probably aren’t copy/pasting your content into an AI detector to check its authenticity. But the lack of idioms, dynamic phraseology, and context can still make it read unnaturally and—in the case of copywriting—less persuasive.

Copywriting is a science of subliminal messaging. Your readers may not necessarily be cognizant of these shortcomings. They just won’t convert.

Wordiness makes content less impactful

A January 2023 research paper uncovered patterns in ChatGPT content that deem it unsuitable for applications involving critical or sensitive information. Titled “How Close is ChatGPT to Human Experts? Comparison Corpus, Evaluation, and Detection,” the study lends insight into how far this technology has come—and how much further it needs to go before being considered safe for use with confidential data.

Astonishingly, in response to queries posed about finances and psychology, more than half of the people surveyed opted for responses from ChatGPT. But when it came to medical questions, respondents overwhelmingly favored straightforward answers—something AI couldn’t do.

ChatGPT-teeth-brushing-response

We tried this out ourselves, asking how many times per day to brush your teeth.

The answer we all know (“twice per day”) is three words long. But it returns a paragraph every time.

How to Make Your Content Stand Out

Yes, ChatGPT can generate content quickly. But the reality of using AI-powered tools for copywriting is far more nuanced than that.

John Mueller quote you don't need AI to write bad content

Google’s John Mueller said it best: “You don’t need AI to write bad content.”

You still need to have an understanding of the nuances of language, SEO best practices, and audience targeting. You need to recognize when the output of ChatGPT is working and when it isn’t.

Here are some tips for leveraging the power of AI writing tools without sacrificing your job security:

Think of it as a time-saving assistant

Your goal should be to find ways to use AI-powered tools to be more efficient and generate better content. Use ChatGPT to generate ideas, research topics, or even draft entire pieces of copy.

There are several time-consuming tasks writers can easily delegate to an AI assistant:

  • Outline generation
  • Research
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Content optimization
  • Brainstorming anything
  • Rewording, paraphrasing, and summarizing text

chatGPT-writing-topics

For example, we can brainstorm topic ideas for more ChatGPT-related content for our copywriter to turn into an awesome piece.

Rather than think about these topics on our own, we just added an extra two hours to our day.

Thoroughly plan your content before diving in

Writing with intention and purpose comes with many benefits. Before giving ChatGPT the reins, you should thoroughly plan every aspect of your content, including its angle, audience, goals, keywords, and CTA.

writing-with-robots-topic-outline

We asked ChatGPT for an outline for one of the topic ideas it gave us. Although it needs work, it’s a great starting point for a copywriter—one that would have taken us much longer to come up with ourselves.

Focus on content that converts, not content at scale

Web traffic is nothing more than a vanity metric if nobody’s actually handing you their money.

Perhaps it’s because of AI, but many people forget that content is a tool for conversion. It should be written in such a way as to make readers want to do something—whether it’s purchasing a product, signing up for an email list, or engaging with your brand.

For a plethora of businesses (and unfortunately, agencies) we’ve seen, content strategy looks something like this:

  1. Keyword and topic research on Ahrefs or Semrush only
  2. Generating a blog in 30 minutes or less using AI copywriting tools
  3. Optimizing it with a software like SurferSEO and nothing else
  4. Publishing it and moving on to the next one

Rather than posting 50 top-of-funnel blogs every month with no regard for originality, focus on creating quality content that engages your readers, builds trust with them, and ultimately results in conversions.

Bottom-of-funnel content like comparisons and product how-tos, for example, might not generate much organic traffic. But that doesn’t matter if it leads readers to the ultimate goal: buying from you.

Incorporate your brand knowledge

Use the time ChatGPT saves you on setup and general information to incorporate your brand’s unique point of view. Instead of turning to the same generic copy, use your knowledge to make it stand out.

This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Adding humor or wit to the piece
  • Including industry-specific knowledge readers couldn’t find anywhere else
  • Including your own experience based on clients or customers
  • Diving into the nuances of the topic to bring out a unique angle

Through real insights, tips, research, and humor, their content delivers real value to its readers.

Keep an eye out for quality

AI-generated content should go through the same rigorous editing process as any other copy. Don’t rely on the tool to do all of the heavy lifting. You still need to edit, proofread, and refine its output. 

A few things to look out for:

  • Repetition: AI content generators tend to reuse the same language. Starting each sentence in a paragraph or blog section with the object (e.g., “ChatGPT”) is a dead giveaway.
  • Lack of Originality: GPT-4 software are also likely to produce generic and unoriginal content, especially if they don’t know your niche well. Look for phrases like “it is important to remember” or “the key takeaway here.”
  • Unnatural Flow: When reading generated content, look out for awkward phrasing or topics that might seem out of place. For instance, text that doesn’t clearly answer the heading preceding it.
  • Brevity: GPT-4 generators usually produce run-on content that masks the true meaning behind it. Introductory sentences like, “keeping an eye out for quality helps businesses ensure that the content they publish is of a high quality,” are unimportant, unhelpful, and redundant.
  • Factual Accuracy: Checking if all your dates, statistics, and facts are accurate is the difference between a shareable article and a worthless one. AI will unwaveringly deliver incorrect answers for the sake of returning something. And it isn’t worried about the implications that has for your business.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes

Think about it this way: When you look for information, how do you do it? And what do you look for?

The vast majority of people skip the body text, and it’s the copywriter’s responsibility to make sure it’s still engaging and helpful.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes, and ask yourself:

  • Is it easy to find the context I need?
  • Am I providing adequate detail to answer the questions people are looking for?
  • Am I speaking to readers who will actually convert?
  • Is my perspective based on my unique professional knowledge?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you’ll need to work to make sure the text is more helpful, persuasive, engaging, and human.

Final Thoughts

ChatGPT (and other AI-generated content tools) is here to help you get more done in less time, and do it better. It can reduce or eliminate the research, monotonous rephrasing, and other tedious elements of copywriting.

This means copywriters can focus their time on crafting messages with a human touch—the creativity and finesse that only real people can bring to the writing process.

In the end, AI writing tools won’t replace copywriters—but copywriters will need to become AI experts if they want to add value to their clients or respective organizations.