Should You Use ChatGPT to Write SEO Copy?

The recent launch of ChatGPT by the San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI has set the internet ablaze. However, before using ChatGPT to crank out SEO content, it’s crucial to understand the technology’s capabilities, limitations, and how search engines deal with AI-generated content. 

While ChatGPT can certainly streamline the content creation process, overreliance on the technology can backfire if you’re not careful. It’s important to remember that while the technology is powerful, it should be used strategically as a way to complement your own skills and expertise.

What Is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT, which stands for “generative pre-trained transformer,” is an artificial intelligence (AI) language model designed to generate text that is easy to read and understand — as if it were written by a human — based on user inputs. The free service went live in November of 2022 and surpassed 1 million users within just five days. Since then, people have been using it to write movie scripts, analyze their code for bugs, and even write college-level essays complete with cited sources. 

The impressive performance of ChatGPT has many lamenting the death of the student essay and some going as far as calling it the “new Google” or even the “Google killer.” In fact, Bing is said to be implementing ChatGPT as a question-and-answer interface. Whether or not those claims are valid remains to be seen, but for those like me who work in search engine optimization (SEO), ChatGPT and other AI language models are game changers when it comes to content creation.  

How Does ChatGPT Work?

ChatGPT is a sophisticated language model that has been trained to generate human-like text in response to user-provided inputs. To achieve this, the model was fed an extensive dataset of text from books, articles, and websites during its training. As a result, it has learned to predict the most appropriate word in a sequence based on the context of the preceding words. This process was repeated millions of times, allowing the model to continuously improve the quality of the output text. 

Limitations of ChatGPT

If you’re looking to create compelling and authoritative content for SEO with the help of ChatGPT, it’s important to understand its capabilities and also its limitations. While this technology is incredibly powerful, it is not an SEO silver bullet. Simply providing a list of keywords and asking ChatGPT to “write me sales copy for (product)” will not necessarily result in a boost in search engine rankings, especially if Google flags it for AI-generated spam. As outlined on its website, ChatGPT has specific limitations that should be taken into account when using it in your work, including that it: 

  • May occasionally generate incorrect information;
  • May occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content;
  • Has limited knowledge of the world and events after 2021.

The first two of the above limitations are directly related. ChatGPT responses always sound convincingly plausible, even when the information is completely wrong. This happens because the model is just making educated guesses on what it thinks is the most appropriate next word in the sequence. It judges appropriateness based on the data it has been trained with, and that includes an incredible amount of text written by the flawed creatures known as human beings. Most of the time, ChatGPT knows what to say next because it’s seen the correct answer during training. But sometimes it makes incorrect guesses because it’s also encountered that incorrect information before. 

Not everything written by people is helpful or positive, which can result in ChatGPT providing answers that can be deemed biased and even offensive. When asked a question, the model is looking for an answer that’s been provided before, and people have asked and answered questions that have caused real harm due to biases and hatred. ChatGPT does have safeguards to limit emitting offensive material, but this model is still new and not yet free from issues. 

Another factor at play in the limitations discussed so far is the reason behind the third limitation listed on the ChatGPT site. The model is not getting its information from an active internet connection. Everything that the chatbot knows comes from its initial training phase and this must have happened sometime during 2021 because the model does not have the answer to any questions regarding current events. You can get it to write content about something that happened in the past year, but you would need to provide it with the details to get a thorough response. 

None of these limitations are severe enough to make ChatGPT unusable, but they should give you pause if you’re considering using the model to help you with your SEO writing. Remember, content that is strong for SEO should be helpful to the end user, and if that content is inaccurate or offensive, it isn’t helping anyone. 

Does Google Punish AI-Generated Content?

According to Google’s search advocate, John Mueller, using AI-generated content on your website might violate the spam policies detailed in Google’s Search Essentials (formerly Webmaster Guidelines), specifically in the section titled “Spammy Automatically-Generated Content.” The section lists examples of using auto-generated content, including: 

  • Text that makes no sense to the reader but contains search keywords;
  • Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing;
  • Text generated through automated processes without regard for quality or user experience;
  • Text generated using automated synonymizing, paraphrasing, or obfuscation techniques;
  • Text generated from scraping feeds or search results;
  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value.

Violations of Google’s spam policies are reviewed manually and if they are deemed valid, the sites in question may rank lower or can be penalized by being removed from search results pages entirely. Google doesn’t claim to run algorithms that automatically detect AI-generated content, but there are tools available that can analyze text to see how much of a piece of content has been generated automatically.

While you could argue that ChatGPT does not necessarily violate any of those specific guidelines, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid using it to compose entire pages or significant portions of your website, as this may increase the risk of your site being removed from search engine results pages. While we’re always using technology to make our work and lives easier, it would be considered unethical to submit work as your own that has been primarily generated by a computer. Some schools are restricting access to the ChatGPT site and even banning the use of the model for this reason. 

How to Use ChatGPT for SEO (Ethically)

Now that you know that it’s not a great idea to blindly trust ChatGPT to create SEO content for you, we can explore some of the ways the language model CAN make your job easier. Anyone can use it to create content of varying degrees of complexity and quality, but when wielded by someone with SEO writing expertise, ChatGPT can improve both the quality and efficiency of your work. I’ve identified three ways in which ChatGPT can help any writer produce better content. 

1. Combating Writer’s Block

If you’re a writer, you know the feeling of staring at a blank page: feeling overwhelmed and unable to put those first words together. Sometimes the creative juices just aren’t flowing. In those cases, ChatGPT has recently helped me combat my fear of the dreaded blank page. With ChatGPT, you can input a general idea or topic, and the chatbot generates ideas in complete sentences that I can use to guide my writing. I can input my ideas about what I want to write and it fleshes them out, giving me a starting point to build upon. It gets the ball rolling so that I can keep the momentum going as I write to avoid writer’s block. 

2. Research

My primary responsibility as an SEO content creator involves creating content that is helpful to users. And to do that, I need to find content that is first helpful for me and what I want to write. ChatGPT is an incredible research tool in this regard. If you ask it a question, it will not only give you an answer, but explain the answer in easy-to-understand terms. This is an invaluable feature for someone like me who needs to perform research on different topics for clients in a variety of industries. I can’t be an absolute expert on everything I write about, so anytime I can compile information and quickly understand it, I need to take advantage of that opportunity. 

ChatGPT’s research capabilities will only become more powerful when Microsoft incorporates the technology into its Bing search engine. This will allow for even more efficient research, providing users with the information they need. 

It’s important to remember that the tool has a blind spot regarding information newer than 2021, though, and that it may include information that is incorrect. You’ll need to fact-check the information ChatGPT provides you, just like you would when researching using any other tool.

3. Quality Control

ChatGPT is an invaluable tool for quality control when it comes to SEO content creation. Its ability to improve flow and tone can save time and increase productivity by eliminating the need for endless self-editing. Simply input rough drafts into the chatbot, and have it polish the copy or even suggest additions. ChatGPT truly shines when given ample input to work with, making it an asset for writers looking to elevate their work. The more you give it to work with, the better the results. 

As someone who has played around with ChatGPT extensively, I find the chatbot very helpful but not perfect. I find that it helps me formulate ideas and come up with sentences here and there that help kickstart my creative process. However, there is no way I would feel comfortable substituting ChatGPT’s content output for my own creative, human-generated content.

Bottom line: This is a tool to enhance the work of people who already understand how to write and shape content, not a method of creating more SEO content to paste onto your site. ChatGPT is not a replacement for human writers, but it can be a valuable tool for those who learn how to use it effectively and ethically.

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