Should brands be using AI copywriting in the age of the Helpful Content Update?

Since GPT-2 first made waves – and headlines – in 2019 as an AI device that produced such convincing writing, it would be “too harmful to launch to the public”, AI copywriting instruments have turn out to be vastly extra out there and accessible.
Google “AI copywriting device” and also you’ll discover near a dozen listings (together with paid listings) for various AI content material writing instruments, interspersed with listicles rounding up the “finest AI copywriting instruments in 2022”. Automated content material instruments have emerged as one answer to the downside of content material creation at scale: learn how to populate web sites with 1000’s of product descriptions or content material pages in a cheap method. More than that, many of these instruments additionally promote their suitability for creating advertising and marketing copy, significantly search-optimised copy, promising a simple manner for companies to enhance their search presence regardless of their dimension.
Once upon a time, it might need appeared like a transparently poor concept to fee a machine to supply search-optimised content material – a one-way ticket to incomprehensible, keyword-stuffed weblog posts and a black mark from Google. However, with current advances in expertise, AI-written content material appears extra engaging than ever – with commentators even speculating that AI copywriting instruments might change search engine optimisation writers in their position as creators of content material designed particularly for search. AI copywriting instruments promise to create content material on any matter, concentrating on any key phrases – with one device, Scalenut, providing search engine optimisation insights alongside search-optimised content material, and not too long ago netting greater than $3.1 million in a funding spherical led partly by a former Head of Google Search.
For companies desirous to take benefit of these promising new instruments, nevertheless, there’s a giant catch. One of Google’s most up-to-date algorithm updates, the ‘Helpful Content Update’ (HCU for brief) – the newest in an extended line of updates geared toward rewarding genuinely precious content material, and penalising content material created merely to rank nicely – appears to single out AI-written or automated content material as ‘unhelpful’.
Google’s weblog submit specifies that the HCU, which started rolling out in August and completed in early September, is “half of a broader effort to make sure folks see extra unique, useful content material written by folks, for folks, in search outcomes”, (emphasis mine), and provides that websites that use “intensive automation to supply content material on many matters” might discover themselves in the crosshairs.
Even for these brands that aren’t seeking to AI-generated copy particularly for a lift in search, incurring a Google penalty for his or her use may be very a lot not the purpose. So, is the age of AI copywriting over earlier than it started? Are there situations the place it is smart to make use of AI copywriting instruments, or is it universally a foul concept? What separates these instruments from an search engine optimisation author who can also be commissioned to supply content material that performs nicely in search?
I reached out to 3 consultants to get their takes on these questions: Niki Grant, Head of Search at impartial media company The Kite Factory; Joe Comotto, Director of Search Experience at digital advertising and marketing company Incubeta; and Lemuel Park, Chief Technology Officer at enterprise search engine optimisation and content material advertising and marketing platform BrightEdge.
‘Helpfulness’ is nuanced
“One factor we do know for positive, regardless of any rating or algorithm, is that entrepreneurs who usually are not occupied with the content material they produce on-line won’t reap the full advantages – particularly in conversion and income,” says Lemuel Park, CTO at BrightEdge. “This is true for unhelpful content material, duplicate and auto-generated content material [produced] for SERP rankings, or site visitors solely.”
In different phrases, focusing purely on gaining search site visitors to the exclusion of all else is counterproductive – companies have to consider how folks will be participating with their content material past a click on on a search end result, and to what finish, in any other case they received’t achieve any significant interactions – or income – from shoppers past that.
“The Helpful Content replace (HCU) is an element of Google’s evolution to give attention to the consumer and their expertise on-line,” Park provides. “Of course, content material and search engine optimisation have at all times been a component of that. However, it represents a ultimate shift away from SEOs who over-optimise content material, and from black hat search engine optimisation and content material techniques geared toward rank and site visitors.”
Niki Grant, Head of Search at The Kite Factory, additionally factors out that ‘helpfulness’ is a nuanced and subjective concept – it doesn’t simply imply AI writing which may appear convincingly human on an preliminary scan of the content material. “Whilst AI outputs could seem ‘extra human than ever’, there are limitations in the AI functionality meaning outputs will hardly ever be on par with that of a human,” she says. “Cultural nuance for instance; AI received’t be conscious of colloquialisms or turns of phrase related to totally different areas. AI can not use analogies or metaphors, which for a lot of of us carry content material to life and assist us in understanding a given idea: one of the core components of content material being ‘useful’.
“The problem is that what a consumer finds ‘useful’ is subjective and nuanced, based mostly on the viewers, the matter, the nature of the content material, and what the final intention of that content material is,” Grant goes on. “An AI device won’t take into account or deal with this nuance, which can end result in brands making a quantity of ‘same-y’, bland, tone-deaf content material, which might do extra to hinder than assist not solely a website’s presence in the SERPs, however its status amongst shoppers.”
Whilst AI outputs could seem ‘extra human than ever’, there are limitations in the AI functionality meaning outputs will hardly ever be on par with that of a human.” – Niki Grant, Head of Search at Kite Factory
Joe Comotto, Director of Search Experience at Incubeta, factors out that even previous to the HCU, Google’s tips already specified automated content material is a no-no. Its Webmaster Guidelines, for instance, say that site owners ought to keep away from “Automatically generated content material meant to govern search rankings”, whereas extra in-depth steering on routinely generated content material specifies that “In circumstances the place it’s meant to govern search rankings and never assist customers, Google could take actions on such content material.”
“In reality, in relation to automated content material the outputs can solely be nearly as good as the inputs,” Comotto says. “So, in relation to content material that requires thought management or creativity, the AI will create content material that falls brief.
“Take for instance product evaluations: you’ll be able to simply inform the distinction between low high quality recycled content material in comparison with in-depth evaluations. Through the Helpful Content Update, Google is attempting to fight evaluations that simply ship a consumer to an affiliate purchaser versus an insightful evaluation of a product.” Google rolled out a Product Review algorithm replace simply earlier than the HCU, and Google’s steering on product evaluations – together with its stance on affiliate applications, which is that web sites that includes an excessive amount of affiliate content material could endure in search – is believed to be vital to staying on the proper aspect of the HCU.
Do AI instruments have a spot in copywriting?
Is there a job for AI copywriting instruments in content material manufacturing in any respect? I put this query to our consultants, who agreed that there are conditions in which these instruments can be useful – however with caveats.
“If a model’s constraint is time or useful resource, then AI instruments can be useful in making a ‘first draft’ which may be reviewed, amended and humanised by an precise particular person,” says Niki Grant. “It’s price contemplating that if you’re producing content material round a subject in which you’re a bona fide knowledgeable, the worth of the ensuing content material will be a lot larger if the phrases and sentiment are coming from a human knowledgeable versus a machine.”
Joe Comotto acknowledges that automation could have a spot in content material creation, “particularly on massive web sites that produce lots of of pages”, however notes that it is determined by the sort of content material and the objective it’s meant to serve. “It’s about deciding when you must depend on AI and if you want that human enter. Product descriptions are examples of when AI may be useful, however should you have been seeking to generate content material that required extra creativity you’d desire a human to be behind that.”
Even in the realm of product descriptions, nevertheless, companies could must be cautious: Lemuel Park factors to analysis performed by BrightEdge and Oncrawl into net experiences and technical challenges throughout 4 industries: retail, banking, insurance coverage and actual property. It discovered that retail had by far the highest share of duplicate content material at 26%, versus 7% for actual property, 5% for banking, and 1% for insurance coverage.
Park specifies that this was all the way down to product descriptions: “In specific, we seen product descriptions (particularly from producers) created too many duplicate experiences. Hence, we suggested entrepreneurs to give attention to bettering and including distinctive content material to get higher outcomes – even earlier than HCU rolled out.”

 Image: BrightEdge & Oncrawl
BrightEdge have discovered individually that article and class pages on ecommerce web sites are more likely to achieve click-through from search than product pages, with articles about merchandise receiving nearly twice as many click-throughs as the pages for these merchandise. “This is why the position of the content material marketer is on the rise—particularly established, authoritative and skilled writers,” Park says. “In fields like ecommerce—and based mostly on our findings above—material consultants could change automated writing for product descriptions. Definitely for long-form content material similar to articles and class pages.”
When it involves the position of AI in search engine optimisation, Park believes that AI is finest suited to offering knowledge insights that may kind the foundation for a content material technique. “Data-driven insights supply an entire new degree of enterprise insights to our organisations. This helps them to react shortly to market shifts and determine buyer intent, [which] helps them with matter choice for content material writers. It may even assist with optimisation suggestions.”
AI writing instruments can be useful “if they’re there to help with grammar, bettering the textual content, and writing type. They are information to assist with content material so long as people supervise and edit,” Park says. “However, you can not beat high quality content material written by people for people, and I’d by no means advocate letting machines generate full articles.”
Is search engine optimisation writing finest carried out by people or AI – or by no means?
Many brands and companies make use of a author devoted to creating content material that’s optimised for serps, normally referred to as an ‘search engine optimisation author’ or ‘search engine optimisation copywriter’. The follow of search engine optimisation is all about ensuring a web site and its content material are as seen in search as attainable, and search engine optimisation writing combines this with content material advertising and marketing to create content material that may rank nicely from the outset, sometimes in order to lift a enterprise’ profile and convey in new gross sales and leads, and/or to ascertain it as an authority on sure matters.
With the rise of accessible and reasonably priced AI instruments promising to do that at scale, nevertheless, are the search engine optimisation author’s days numbered? And contemplating that Google’s HCU takes intention at content material particularly created for search, will search engine optimisation writers battle to realize cut-through even when they will nonetheless write extra successfully than an AI?
Our consultants assume not. “The actual worth of search engine optimisation copywriters is that they assist you perceive human components similar to what individuals are in, your search calls for and your consumer wants,” says Comotto. “So in the identical manner that you simply might need social listening instruments or buyer surveys that will help you higher perceive your viewers, SEOs can turn out to be your device to assemble that info.” These insights are precious throughout the complete enterprise, not simply in the follow of creating high-ranking content material.
Comotto additionally factors out that creating content material that may carry out nicely in search is about greater than pure content material creation – presentation, formatting and markup all play a job. “For instance, you’ll be able to’t have huge chunks of textual content. You must have your article structured in a manner that’s very scrollable and browsable, as a result of most web customers are inclined to skim articles. So the construction of the content material is sort of as vital as the precise written textual content, and that is the place your SEOs can turn out to be actually precious.
“They can even assist implement schema markup, which is especially vital in serving to Google perceive the experience of your authors.”
“We all must bear in thoughts that pleasing Google’s algorithm is the means, not the finish,” provides Grant. “Google has parameters in place to encourage the creation of content material that customers will discover useful and informative. Without a tough and quick measure of ‘helpfulness’, Google has no possibility however to guage this based mostly on the fruits of a number of components, therefore algorithm updates designed to curb undesirable behaviours from web site homeowners.”
Google’s algorithm updates, even in the 2020s the place singular algorithm “occasions” are much less widespread than they as soon as have been, have a tendency to steer SEOs and web site homeowners to debate how finest to please the new algorithm, however Grant factors out that this mentality is the reverse of what ought to be performed. “The existence of the algorithmic components doesn’t imply that content material ought to be created to please solely the machine.
“If brands create unique, useful, precious content material, it should possible resonate nicely with human customers. If brands [only] create content material that the algorithm would take into account to be unique, useful and precious, some components could be uncared for, ensuing in a smaller impression than anticipated.” This is the case regardless of whether or not the content material is human- or AI-created, however as Grant argued earlier, human writers are more likely to be succesful of true helpfulness and worth than AI.
“Poorly-produced content material won’t work,” in the period of the Helpful Content Update, concludes Park. “Content creators should perceive the buyer and the class whereas bringing their artistic spin to the combine. Quality and skilled content material writers will be important.”
His recommendation to ecommerce brands in specific is to give attention to collaborating with inside and exterior companions much more – “even earlier than useful content material, altering client habits require new artistic content material methods.
“We are getting into a brand new period of content-driven ecommerce—useful content material targeted on offering humanised content material that solutions a necessity with educated recommendation throughout all crucial moments in their on-line journey—supporting the highest high quality procuring expertise attainable.”
Global brands can even plan forward and account for the algorithm replace earlier than it reaches their non-English-language websites, as updates are at all times rolled out for search in English first. “So, when you have websites in different languages, look and be taught.”
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