Can Google Detect AI Content? Here's What We Know

Can Google Detect AI Content? Here’s What We Know, and Why It’s Important

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These days, AI content is highly controversial. On the one hand, there are a lot of companies and agencies who believe in fully adopting AI for all types of written content. For these AI fans, there are few or no drawbacks to AI in general, and generative AI in particular.

On the other side of the debate, there are people who view AI with suspicion or even hostility. For example, many content writers view the more elaborate AI tools as a potential threat to their business. And in some ways, this isn’t wrong because many companies are adopting the use of AI.

As you can see, clear battle lines have been drawn in the AI wars. One of the central questions to this war is, can Google detect AI content? And if it can, how does the use of AI affect a website or a page for SEO? Naturally, these concerns are valid for both sides of the debate over AI because everybody wants great performance on the SERPs.

Let’s take a look at can Google detect AI content in the context of how this technology works, where it excels, and how it falls short. From there, you can make your own decisions about what place this technology may have in your marketing and content creation efforts.

Understanding AI Content and Its Detection

Throughout its history, Google has fought a battle against spam and other low-quality content. It used to be that people who wanted to spam the Internet for as many keywords as possible would write a single article and then run it through an article spinner. The spinner would rearrange the original content, and in many cases, it would also change the keyword.

Article spinning was one of the earliest uses of AI for content creation, and it consistently produced poor-quality content. In fact, the quality would be so bad that most people would leave those pages almost as soon as they arrived. However, in the early days of SEO, content could be completely irrelevant to the keywords so long as those keywords were added more times than competitive yet relevant content.

One of the earliest responses to AI content was aimed at these spun articles and at keyword stuffing. In fact, back then, the answer to can Google detect AI content was a resounding yes. In fact, this ability allowed Google to clear up the SERPs so that users could easily find content that was truly relevant to their searches.

The Rise Of AI-Generated Content

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While article spinning is no longer the major force that it once was, that’s not to say that we are finished with AI. In fact, while article spinners require an initial piece of content to produce spun copies, newer tools like ChatGPT and Jasper can work with only a prompt.

These generative AI tools offer increased efficiency in content production through automation. For businesses that depend on producing large volumes of content, this can be a very compelling capability. Simply put, you can do more work with fewer personnel if you embrace automation. No wonder that the smaller your organization is, the more compelling of an opportunity generative AI content becomes.

Importantly, these new AI tools have the ability to generate human-like text with advanced language models. To an untrained eye, much of the content generated by these new tools will appear to have human authorship. That assumes, however, that the person using the AI tools knows how to ask the tool for what they need. It’s definitely an acquired skill.

The growing popularity of AI content writing tools and content generators means that many content creators consider them threatening. This is especially true for the ones who work specifically as writers, as opposed to those for whom writing is a secondary endeavor. And for them, it’s great that the answer to can Google detect AI content is yes.

The Importance Of Content Quality In Search Rankings

Whether you create content using entirely human techniques, by leveraging AI, or both, higher-quality content leads to better user engagement and lower bounce rates. Even though the era of keyword stuffing is largely over, people want to get value from their time. This is true whether they are searching the web for business reasons or for personal ones.

For this reason and others, search engines prioritize well-researched, informative, and original content along the lines of Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines. In fact, search engines have increasingly become the gatekeepers for companies and individuals who want to pass on information or express their ideas. After all, more than 90% of organic web traffic through Google belongs to webpages at the top of the SERPs. Therefore, over time high-quality content will almost always perform better than low-quality content.

The Role Of Google In Detecting AI Content

To be certain about can Google detect AI content, the company must consistently keep track of the latest technological developments. Part of this process is implementing algorithms to identify patterns in AI-generated text. Because AI does not have the level of creativity as human writers, there are telltale signs that other programs can use to predict whether or not something was written using that technology.

As things stand, there is a virtual arms race between Google and other tools that can detect AI content and developers of generative AI tools. One reason for this is that AI-generated content still does not have the same level of quality that you get with human writers, although it is getting much closer.

For this reason, Google does a lot of collaborating with the SEO community to address AI content issues such as providing this type of guidance. Ultimately, the SEO industry is divided between the ethical actors who want high-quality content to be at the top of the SERPs and the less ethical ones who will try and rank first with junk content or black hat techniques. Because Google wants to work with the ethical side of the SEO community, they focus on discouraging bad actors. Sadly, many of the bad actors will use AI from now on due to cost and scalability.

Here are some of the technologies that Google can use to detect AI content. Many of these are also used by better-quality content generation tools.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) And Machine Learning Algorithms

NLP enables computers to understand and interpret human language. This increased comprehension lets computers determine search intent for a keyword, better understand the question, and more. In turn, the algorithm can determine the degree to which existing content is consistent with what the searchers want.

Likewise, machine learning algorithms help identify patterns and trends in text data. Most AI content follows consistent patterns and has distinctive attributes. For instance, AI is less creative with word use than a good human writer would be. And as the trends change, machine learning will identify them and adapt accordingly.

These technologies work together to analyze and evaluate content quality. In this case, they both identify AI content and determine how good it is.

Deep Learning And Language Models

Deep learning allows AI to understand complex language patterns. While most generative AI cannot handle especially technical content requests, they can read awkward sentences and dense paragraphs for information. Then, they can extract the information for use in content.

Language models like GPT-3 generate human-like text based on context. Essentially, the algorithm picks up information from its training data, the Internet, or both. Then, it leverages that information to create content based on logic. The content itself will sound like a human road, but as a rule, it’ll sound like a writer with relatively little skill. Furthermore, the algorithm can’t think for itself, so you’ll have to make sure the content is accurate.

The Role Of Content Analysis And Semantic Understanding

Content analysis helps identify the main topics and entities in a text. For instance, for this article, an algorithm will quickly determine that we are talking about Google and AI for content creation. Similarly, semantic understanding allows AI to grasp the meaning behind a text. This is why some Google items like Featured Snippets are not only possible but highly relevant.

These processes aid in the evaluation of content quality and relevance to a topic. And because the algorithm applies a score based on the same criteria every time, it’s relatively impartial.

Google’s Approach to AI Content Detection

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By now, you can see why the answer to can Google detect AI content is a resounding yes. In fact, the tools that Google uses to find AI content are algorithms trained on both human and AI content. This is how it can put two and two together better than human readers.

It used to be that Google largely banned AI-generated content for a long time. One reason for this was the article spinners and their black hat SEO techniques. Furthermore, the original generation of AI tools typically produced poor results. Newer algorithms are better, but they still often fall short. Here’s how Google thinks about AI-generated content on the SERPs.

The Webspam Team And Their Role In Content Filtering

Google has an entire unit called the web spam team, which identifies and removes spammy or low-quality content from search results. They do this either by penalizing bad content upfront or by issuing manual actions that suspend a webpages’ ranking until the content has been fixed.

Additionally, this team works to ensure that search results prioritize high-quality, relevant content. Now that Google has lifted its AI content ban, any content that meets or exceeds Google’s standards can reach the top of the SERPs. However, the content will still have to be very high quality.

The spam team’s efforts help maintain a positive user experience on Google Search. Especially because it is ultimately humans and their positive experiences that bring in money, it is critical that they are happy.

Content Authenticity And Content Evaluation

Authentic content provides accurate, reliable information. For instance, the ultimate authentic content might be the online version of a reputable print encyclopedia or content about a disease from a famous teaching hospital., Anything from a subject matter expert would also be considered authentic. When Google evaluates content for indexing, the algorithm determines how authentic the content is.

Likewise, content evaluation involves assessing the quality and originality of a piece. One of the reasons why Google can identify AI content is that it needs to determine if something is original. In this case, originality can go beyond whether or not the content has been plagiarized and examine if it says anything new. Quality can include not just the information but how well-written the content is.

Both factors contribute to the overall value and trustworthiness of the content. And because Google ranks the most relevant and valuable content first, AI content from the get-go as is is typically at a disadvantage.

Google Search And The Use Of Artificial Intelligence

Naturally, there are a lot of wonderful things about AI on the Internet. For instance, AI helps improve search algorithms by understanding user intent and context. It is also the most powerful idea generator that many content creators, like Zach King, are raving about:

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Getting back to Google, machine learning enables Google to adapt and evolve its search algorithms. Not only does this help them keep up with industry updates and changing trends, but Google can also adjust the algorithms in response to changes in generative AI. For that reason, Google will be able to detect AI content long into the future.

With all that said, AI-powered features enhance search results and user experience. For instance, suggested content features and advertising based on consumer behavior helps to keep people interested. It also detects when people lose interest in content too soon. Often, that’s a sign that the content is of low quality or is filed in the wrong place.

The Impact of AI Content on Search Rankings

Now that you understand the reasons behind my answer to can Google detect AI content let’s look at how AI content can affect Google rankings. In short, AI-generated content is evaluated based on the same criteria as everything else. Because a large portion of this content struggles to meet the traditional criteria for quality content, it’s at a significant disadvantage against human-written content.

Here’s the breakdown.

Further Reading: Does Google Penalize AI Content? Here’s What We Know

High-Quality Content Vs. Low-Quality Content

One of the biggest areas in which AI content has actually improved over the past few years is the quality of content. While the text still can be robotic, it at least sounds human in many cases. GPT-4 significantly improved what was already getting very close to sounding human. However, these improvements only go so far when it comes to the search engines.

High-quality content is well-researched, informative, and engaging. Here, the trouble is that AI has a limited ability to research content. That means most of these tools create content that’s very similar to existing copy because that is what the technology is based on. They can also hallucinate and flat-out provide inaccurate information. Finally, AI tools don’t have the creativity to make the final product engaging.

By contrast, low-quality content is often shallow, poorly written, or misleading. It’ll frequently rehash the information that’s already out there, whether the info is accurate or not. And because words are chosen automatically, the text lacks a creative flair and emotion that connects with and keeps people reading.

The quality of content directly impacts search rankings and user experience. In terms of the SERPs, Google shows the best content for each keyword. And because the user experience is often less than ideal for AI-generated content, dwell times tend to suffer, and with that so do search engine rankings.

The Importance Of Original Content In SEO

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Original content sets a website apart from competitors. Even before the AI content boom, content writers would frequently create content that is very similar to the highest-ranked content. For this reason, if you have original content, then you’re at a competitive advantage against those who simply parrot the same information over and over again.

Also, unique content attracts organic traffic and encourages backlinks. People typically do not want to read the same information from different sources over and over again. Instead, they want a better value for their time by learning something new with every page. Likewise, original content is compelling enough that other content creators might backlink to it. And as most people know, backlinks also improve your SEO.

For this reason, generally speaking, search engines reward original content and perspectives with higher search rankings. An important part of the search engine’s job is to show the best content available on the Internet for every keyword.

Further Reading: The 15 Best Rank Tracker Tools to Rock Your SEO in 2024

AI Content Creation Tools And Their Influence On Content Production

Although AI content creation tools are not perfect, they are still very influential in today’s AI-infused content marketing environment. For one thing, the pressure to always be posting something new, and the relatively long lead times for large quantities of content automatically encourage site owners to try AI-based content. Also, there are plenty of AI-based tools that can be helpful to human writers. Let’s look at the influence that many of these can have on content production.

Tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT can automate content creation. If you give these tools the right prompt, they can generate anything from a snappy social media post to a short blog post. Some other tools like Jasper and Writesonic can even give you something longer without needing to understand prompt engineering. And, the content is finished in a fraction of the time that you’d spend writing from scratch.

The increasing popularity of these tools contributes to the rise of AI-generated content. When you consider that most modern tools can produce something that sounds human, the popularity is unsurprising.

Further Reading: The 23 Best SEO Tools to Power Your Search Engine Marketing

The Rise Of AI-Written Content And Its Impact On Content Creators

Unfortunately, many content creators will have trouble adapting to the current climate. Many of the businesses that will use long-form AI-generated content are the same ones that have previously hired these writers.

On the other hand, AI-written content challenges human writers to differentiate themselves. Individuals and companies that continue to hire human writers will understand the value of higher-quality content — and be willing to pay extra for it.

Similarly, AI competition encourages content creators to focus on originality and expertise. Companies that demand high-quality work or that face heavy competition on the SERPs will have a significant incentive to keep hiring human writers. That’s because posting original work on their website makes it more competitive, especially if a lot of the competitive pressure comes from AI-generated content. And, if human writers can demonstrate some expertise in the topic, this effect will be even greater.

Eventually, the rise of AI-written content may lead to new collaboration opportunities between humans and AI. It’s hard to know exactly what this might look like, but, as hinted earlier, we are seeing the emergence of AI as the ultimate brainstorming and ideation tool.

Balancing Human Review And AI-Generated Content

For companies that choose to use AI for content generation, human review ensures quality control and the preservation of a brand’s voice. In particular, human editors can grant personality or branded details to content that may otherwise be very dry. People can also check the facts and any sources cited to prevent the spread of misinformation.

With that said, AI-generated content can supplement human efforts, increasing efficiency. It can help content creators overcome writer’s block, identify opportunities to shine based on data, and even help gather information. Used this way, AI avoids most of the pitfalls I’ve mentioned above.

Ultimately, striking a balance between the two allows for optimal content production. Many content creators use AI to help with smaller tasks, like social media posts, for information gathering, or to generate outlines. Then, they either review the short-form content or they fill in the long-form pieces by hand.

The SEO Community’s Response to AI Content Detection

While some people in the SEO Community will use AI for content generation, I believe that most SEO experts will continue to favor human-generated content for blogs and other crucial content while using AI for other purposes. One of the big reasons for this is the disadvantages of this content creation method against traditional human authorship. At the same time, some short-form content has relatively little value for SEO or is relatively immune from the drawbacks of AI generation. Those items will likely be written with AI more frequently.

With that said, it’s important to understand how the SEO Community will likely respond to AI developments when they write content that matters.

The Role Of Subject Matter Experts And Human Writers

The Role Of Subject Matter Experts And Human Writers

Depending on the type of content, there is often no replacement for human expertise. Experts provide authoritative, well-researched content in their fields (EEAT), and which is frequently rewarded with very high rankings on the SERPs.

Similarly, human writers can convey nuance, emotion, and creativity more effectively. This capability is a huge benefit when companies need to build a connection with customers. Similarly, precision is critical for certain topics and content types. In these situations, AI content typically does not perform as well.

Both experts and human writers contribute to the overall quality and originality of content. So, if you’re going to write something like a whitepaper or a case study, there is no substitute for human authorship. The same thing goes with informative pieces on more complicated or scientific topics, especially when you consider that AI cannot perform original research or properly vet its sources.

Obfuscation Techniques And Their Effect On Content Quality

Especially because I have already answered Google detect AI content with a yes, it’s important to discuss how some AI users answer this challenge.

Obfuscation techniques can make AI-generated content harder to detect. There are several techniques, including article spinning and heavy editing, that try to fool the algorithms. Although editing that’s done well can turn AI content into quality writing, many obfuscation techniques may lead to an increase in low-quality, spammy content. Spinning is probably the most egregious example, especially because the program can actually lower the quality of the original content by indiscriminately arranging words.

The SEO community must adapt to address the challenges posed by obfuscation techniques. One option is to significantly raise the bar for quality content by bringing in subject matter experts. Another option is being especially diligent about editing and fact-checking human content to ensure that it’s far superior to the AI competition. There will be more techniques developed over time.

The Importance Of User Experience in Content Creation

As I mentioned before, user experience is a key factor in search engine rankings. Google and other search engines try to find and promote content that is relevant and useful for searchers.

Ultimately, high-quality content improves user engagement and satisfaction. Various aspects of quality include not only the composition itself but also the smoothness and readability of the text. While dense, boring text is fine in certain academic and highly technical settings, it’s inappropriate for most SEO content. Sadly, generative AI will often produce such results without intervention.

Focusing on user experience helps content creators prioritize their audience’s needs. Certainly, people need accurate and useful information, but they also want it to be easily accessible.

The Future of AI Content and Google’s Detection Capabilities

Understanding that Google can detect AI content, it’s important to understand how those detection capabilities and the content itself may evolve over time. Technology nearly always improves, and in this area, I would expect the technology on both sides to improve. After all, developers of generative AI algorithms would love to see their content become undetectable. And at the same time, Google and other stakeholders of the SEO Community want to ensure that only the highest quality content ranks at the top of the SERPs.

Here are some factors that will help define the balance in the future.

Further Reading: How to Do SEO Yourself in 2024: 9 DIY Tips for Success

The Evolving Nature Of AI Content And Language Models

There’s no question that AI language models continue to improve in sophistication and capability. While spinners were once state-of-the-art, their capabilities pale in comparison to ChatGPT. Still, even the best language models have significant limitations on how well they can mimic human expression.

As AI evolves, the line between human-generated and AI-generated content may blur. It’s hard to know how much, or at what pace, this may happen. However, the history of technological advancement demonstrates that some changes happen gradually while others are quite sudden. The iPhone, for instance, was a huge leap forward. Meanwhile, the capabilities of laptop computers tend to revolve more slowly.

This evolution presents new challenges and opportunities for content creators and SEO professionals alike. Content creators must learn to balance the use of new technologies with both sound SEO principles and the need to maximize quality. Similarly, SEO practitioners may need to pivot their strategies and techniques to ensure that human and AI-generated content can compete with each other fairly.

Further Reading: What is SEO Analysis? Improve Your SEO With These 4 Strategies

The Potential For Human-Like Text And Levels Of Expression

Advanced AI models can generate increasingly human-like text. Short-form items like ad copy, product descriptions and social media posts are excellent candidates for AI generation. However, current technology does a poor job of creating longer content that remains humanlike.

However, these models may eventually mimic human levels of expression and creativity, even for longer or more complex content. That’s especially true since the developers of generative AI algorithms talk about the potential for customers to minimize the use of human operators. The more human an algorithm’s finished text sounds, the more attractive its use becomes to relatively exacting customers.

The potential for human-like text raises ethical and practical concerns for content creators. Practically speaking, there will be more competitive pressure from these algorithms as the technology becomes more advanced.

From an ethical standpoint, there’s already a temptation to use AI algorithms as a way to speed up work while representing that the content they produce is written by hand. This misrepresentation can do significant damage to clients, in addition to receiving more pay than the content is worth. As technology advances, the temptation to take shortcuts will grow — especially if that includes a reduced ability for AI content detectors to work accurately.

The Critical Role Of Ongoing Research In Natural Language Processing

There’s a lot of ongoing research into NLP and other AI-related technologies, both in the tech industry and in academic settings. Research in NLP drives advancements in AI content generation and detection, though it’s hard to tell at this point whether detection tools will continue to outsmart further development in NLP technology.

On the other side of the coin, continuous research helps improve AI models and their understanding of language. We already see that AI content is getting less robotic, to the point that it’s notably better than a year ago. Eventually, if advances in the ability to detect AI content stall, it may become very difficult to differentiate them.

Ongoing research is essential for addressing the challenges posed by AI-generated content. This is true both for developers and those who want to maintain the advantage of human-generated content.

The Ongoing Efforts By Google To Detect And Manage AI-Generated Content

Fortunately, Google is doing its part to ensure that we can still answer can Google detect AI content in the affirmative. They realize that a friendly, easy-to-use search experience is beneficial to almost everyone, with the exception of spammers and scammers.

To achieve these goals, Google continuously updates its algorithms to detect and filter AI-generated content. In addition, earlier innovations like the Helpful Content Update help to screen out badly written webpages that do not give a lot of information. Because a lot of AI content is unhelpful, it gets filtered even without the AI detectors.

Google’s efforts aim to maintain a high-quality, trustworthy online environment. Nobody wants the challenges of the early Internet and its relatively crude search engines to return. While local libraries may benefit through increased traffic, competing with spam on search engines would make the dissemination of accurate information much more difficult. And in turn, many of the things which make the Internet as we know it so powerful would be under threat.

Further Reading: 15 Powerful AI Copywriting Tools That Will Transform Your Writing

Conclusion

There is no question that Google can detect AI content. While a lot of AI content can be useful, such as through short-form content like ad copy, social media posts or product descriptions, it also offers a lot of potential for abuse. As a marketer, I am very concerned that my clients and other stakeholders will have a tougher time keeping their valuable web content competitive on the SERPs if they don’t strike the right balance between human and AI.

Fortunately, top-quality content should continue to perform well on Google far into the future. It’s just a matter of making sure that algorithms can continue to filter out spam and sin content, whether generated by humans or AI.

Further Reading: 15 AI Detection Tools (Free & Paid) I Recommend You Check Out – and Why

Hero Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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