AI content tools can generate ideas, check written content for spelling or grammatical errors, and efficiently incorporate keywords into human-written text. Recently, increasingly sophisticated tools have demonstrated the ability to generate human-like text—meaning business owners can use them for anything from writing product descriptions to generating thought-leadership articles.
Of course, from an SEO perspective, digital content is only as valuable as Google thinks it is—and until recently, Google’s guidelines regarded AI-written content as a form of spam.
Here’s what you need to know about how Google handles AI content today and how to create content to optimize your search engine performance.
What is AI content?
AI content is any media produced by a machine learning algorithm. It can include graphics, text, video, or audio content. The algorithms responsible for making this content are a form of artificial intelligence (AI), broadly defined as any technology that performs tasks traditionally associated with human intelligence—such as writing, painting, playing chess, or holding a conversation.
AI tools that use natural language generation to create written content are known as AI writing tools, and they’re becoming increasingly good at creating content indistinguishable from content created by a human writer.
Can Google detect AI content?
Search engine optimization experts are divided on Google’s AI-detection abilities, and company representatives haven’t explicitly claimed the search engine can detect AI-generated content. Until recently, however, Google’s algorithm considered automatically generated content to be a form of spam, meaning any AI content identified by the search engine was penalized accordingly. In 2022, Google’s senior webmaster trends analyst John Mueller told participants in a Google Search Central Office Hours session, “For us [AI content is] still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines.”
All of this changed in 2023. According to current guidelines from Google Search Central, the search engine now focuses on “rewarding high-quality content, however it is produced.” In other words, business owners no longer need to avoid Google detection when relying on AI content. Instead, they can focus on using AI writing tools to create high-quality content that meets their target audience’s needs.
How does Google detect AI content?
Google hasn’t explicitly stated how (or even if) its AI detection tools work. As of 2023, however, Google has shifted its focus from process to product, meaning Google is less interested in detecting AI content than it is in determining whether the resulting text meets Google’s content quality standards.
For example, Google Search Central (formerly Google’s Webmaster Guidelines) recommends avoiding “spammy automatically generated content,” which it defines as “content that’s been generated programmatically without producing anything original or adding sufficient value.” Google adds that the search engine will penalize content if it determines that its primary purpose is to manipulate search rankings.
Based on this definition, auto-generated content is only an issue if it’s “spammy,” or not providing value to users. Google Search Central also contains provisions against human-generated spammy content, including admonitions against keyword stuffing and hosting user-generated spam. In other words, spammy content is penalized and valuable content rewarded—regardless of whether it’s created by a human or a machine.
How to avoid AI content penalties
- E-E-A-T it
- Conduct a self-assessment
- Focus on humans
- Don’t focus on search engines
- Use AI content tools strategically
Google may no longer penalize AI content, but it does penalize content it regards as spam. You can avoid penalties by focusing on meeting the needs of your specific target audiences and consulting Google’s guidelines to confirm that your practices align with search engine parameters.
These tips can help you create content of sufficient value to avoid penalties—whether you’re using an AI writing tool or not.
1. E-E-A-T it
Google evaluates content quality based on “expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness,” or the acronym E-E-A-T. Google recommends content creators increase E-E-A-T metrics by asking questions about the who, how, and why of a piece of content. Here are a few tips for each question:
- Who. Is it clear who created a specific piece of content? Google expresses a preference for transparent authorship. Including a byline can improve your performance.
- How. What do readers need to know about the content creation process? If the content expresses an opinion about a product or experience, is it clear how the author arrived at that conclusion—e.g., did the author dine at the restaurant being reviewed? If the content used automation, does the piece disclose how and why?
- Why. Did the author create this content to help people or to manipulate search engine rankings? According to Google, this is the most important question of the three. Avoid black hat SEO practices, like keyword stuffing, that cater to bots more than people.
2. Conduct a self-assessment
Google recommends users self-assess content. If you’re using AI tools to write content, use a human writer to evaluate the AI-generated text. Google provides a list of self-assessment questions to help you see whether your content meets the mark. Here’s a sampling from Google Search Central:
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond the obvious?
- If someone researched the site producing the content, would they come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely recognized as an authority on its topic?
- Is this content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
3. Focus on humans
Google privileges people-first content, which it defines as content created primarily to provide value for human readers (as opposed to content created primarily to perform well in search rankings).
Of course, Google can’t see what’s in your heart, but helpful content will perform well in search engine rankings, even if it’s part of a content marketing strategy, and low-quality content can be penalized even if it represents a genuine effort to help.
Instead of second-guessing your motivations, treat Google’s intent guidelines as a helpful shorthand for identifying high-quality written content. If your content solves a relevant problem for your target audience and you are either an authority on the subject matter or have consulted authoritative sources, you’ve created content of value to human readers (and increased your likelihood of performing well in search engine results).
4. Don’t focus on search engines
On the flip side, Google recommends avoiding content written for—or seems to be written for—the sole purpose of generating search engine traffic. The search engine penalizes sites that generate content primarily to rank, and advises against practices like keyword stuffing and summarizing source texts without adding context.
Self-screening questions from Google Search Central provide additional insight into what it regards as evidence of search-engine-focused content. Here’s an overview:
- Publishing content on too many different topics. Google flags “producing lots of content on many different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results” and “using extensive automation to produce content on many topics” as evidence that content exists to serve search engines instead of readers. Quality sites tend to serve a particular readership—and content creators are more likely to have expertise and authority in a defined area—so sites that publish content on a range of disconnected topics can be flagged as spam.
- Suggesting your content can solve a problem without providing an answer. Have you ever clicked on an article titled something like “Severance Season Two Release Date” only to encounter 600 words on the fact season two of the show Severance doesn’t yet have a release date? Google assumes this type of content is intended to earn traffic from users who want an answer to a specific question—and because the content can’t provide an answer, it is considered spam.
- Publishing content not suited to your audience. Google penalizes sites that cover content specifically because it is trending, rather than because it has any relevance to a particular audience.
5. Use AI content tools strategically
Not all AI tools are created equal, and different tools are better suited to different activities. AI tools can help you generate blog posts, write product descriptions, and even create and manipulate images. Select a tool that fits your budget, intended purpose, and content creation process. You can also use AI tools to improve the accuracy and consistency of human writing. For example, many free tools can check for spelling and grammar mistakes, and some can even detect plagiarism.
Can Google detect AI content FAQ
Does Google consider AI content spam?
As of 2023, Google no longer treats AI-written content as spam. Instead, it focuses on content quality, which it values in terms of whether or not content benefits human readers.
Can AI content be traced?
Google hasn’t clarified whether or not it can distinguish between human-written content and AI-written content—but as of 2023, it also no longer privileges human content over AI content. Instead, the search engine ranks content according to quality.
How does Google penalize AI content?
Google doesn’t necessarily penalize AI content, but it does penalize “spammy content” whether it’s been created by a human or an AI writer.