Given the centrality of Google search results to online reputation management, what is the impact of ChatGPT on Google search and what does the advent of accessible AI mean for the search engine?
We know that 92.63% of Internet searches take place on Google, with Bing a very distant second at under 3%. We also know that the first page of Google search results really matter when it comes to an individual’s or company’s online reputation.
Now that ChatGPT and competing AI programmes are being pushed into the mainstream, it’s important to assess how this impacts the search engine and what it means for rankings.
What does Google itself say about AI content?
Over recent years, Google’s public stance on content generated by AI – including ChatGPT – has shifted.
The question remains whether there is a way that Google can detect text that has been generated by AI as opposed to original crafted content? And if there is such a way to detect that content has been created by a programme such as OpenAI or ChatGPT, how does this then impact the search results.
A logical assumption would be that AI generated content would incur a ranking penalty, but this depends on Google’s overall stance on the future of the search engine.
Can Google detect content created by ChatGPT or other AI platforms?
Theoretically, yes. If Google implemented a specifically designed system for detecting AI content. However, currently there is no reason to think that this is happening when the platform indexes and ranks content.
In April 2022, Google’s senior search analyst John Mueller was asked whether Google could – at the time – differentiate between human and AI generated content. His response was: “I can’t claim that.”
This interview kicked off much debate across the sector, as Mueller also specified that there is a comparison between AI content and spam. Previously, this was the stance defined by Google in its Webmaster Guidelines (now called ‘Google Search Essentials’).
Fast forward 13 months and Google’s AI stance has changed.
Why would Google care if content is created by ChatGPT?
Google’s mission is always to present users with the best possible search results. The platform continuously works on how to do this and a huge part of this process is finding ways to stop spam.
According to Google itself, spam or spammy 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.”
The platform’s reasoning behind its mission to crack down on spammy content is that this kind of automatically generated information is extremely low quality. It focuses generally on keyword stuffing in order to manipulate Google’s search results.
Therefore, removing it from search engine results pages (SERPs) is vital in order for Google to ensure the integrity of its results.
Human created content versus AI created content
While automatically generated content remained low quality, Google was clear that it would only accepted human generated content that is high quality. All content should be created in order to enhance and improve user experience and maintain Google’s credibility as a trustworthy search engine.
However, with the more recent increase in machine learning (ML) and generative adversarial networks (GAN), the line has blurred. A GAN is a ML model that uses deep learning methods to improve the predictions of two neural networks. In other words, highly sophisticated AI that can create targeted content.
Now that far more sophisticated AI software like this is available to marketers, writers and content creators, it can be used (in theory) to create content that is useful to users rather than spam.
Does Google care that content is AI generated?
In February 2023, Danny Sullivan (Google’s Public Liaison for Search) laid out Google’s current position on AI generated content and the impact of ChatGPT on Google search. Their position is that Google accepted AI created content as long as it is useful for the user and created for the user.
This means that if AI content is used as spam, it still violates Google’s policies and guidelines. Google has added a new content section to its guidelines surrounding the “who, how and why” of content.
If content is created (regardless of whether it was written by a human or created using something like ChatGPT) in order to manipulate search results then Google will detect it at some point.
Google’s updated people first content page
This is the page on Google that has been updated to reflect its stance towards content creation in general, whether AI or written by humans.
The advice from Google on this page surrounds how best content creators can keep on track with the system. It includes suggestions to make it clear:
- Who created the content – is it self-evident, is there a byline, s there information on the creator/author? Google recommends making it obvious and accurate.
- How the content was created – it isn’t just the impact of ChatGPT on Google search. Google says that readers want to know how the content is created. For example, whether it’s sponsored, automated, AI generated or AI assisted. Here, Google strongly recommends being transparent about AI and automation.
- Why the content was created – this is the most important part of the directions. Google is clear that content should only be created if it’s to help people and that it’s useful to visitors.
Google generally supports AI content
While Google hasn’t yet announced that it is officially detecting AI vs human created content, it has been clear that it’s not against their guidelines.
As long as the automated content isn’t created solely to manipulate search rankings, then Google is largely OK with it. Given the fact that automation has been used to create useful content for a long time, Google believes that it can be used in innovative new ways to create better content for users.
The impact of ChatGPT on Google search
Dealing with spam and poor quality content is not a new challenge for Google Search. Google has been finding ways to deal with this problem for years. These systems are constantly evolving and improving.
A similar stance is taken by Google when it comes to the propagation of fake news – it’s not a new thing that is synonymous with AI and automation. Rather, it’s a problem they’ve been dealing with for years.
The systems remain the same for content, whether it’s human created or written by a programme such as ChatGPT.
Google says: “Our focus on the quality of the content, rather than how content is produced, is a useful guide that has helped us deliver reliable, high quality results to users for years.”
As to how this will impact SEO and content creation, for now, the jury is still out. Google is clear that it intends to treat AI created content in exactly the same way as other content – as long as it is useful for the user it is allowed. If it’s created in order to manipulate search results, it isn’t allowed.
The next few years will clarify how much AI generated content, such as ChatGPT, will change the way we use Google.
Managing Director at Igniyte – The Reputation Experts
Roz is an industry spokesperson on all areas of online reputation management and our resident digital media expert. She regularly writes about reputation management research, online reputation risk and industry best practice.