ChatGPT Affects Your SEO (But Not How You Think It Does)

Most times, when people ask if ChatGPT affects SEO, what they really want to know is whether they can use it to drive meaningful organic search traffic. But there’s a lot more to the AI revolution’s effects on SEO — we’ve only seen the start of it, by the way — than the effectiveness of AI-generated content.

In this post, we separate the SEO facts from both the hype and paranoia to give you a clear-eyed, albeit less sensational, view of how AI is changing SEO — and actionable steps to leverage it for your business without hurting your site’s rankings or engagement.

Does AI content affect SEO?

ChatGPT is no doubt the most well-known of all AI tools, but it isn’t the only one used for SEO content. There are over two dozen prominent AI content writing tools, with more coming into existence every day.

These tools reduce the time, effort, and expense involved in creating content, so pretty much anybody with an internet connection can now create an article or a blog post (however good or bad). So, there’s an explosion in the volume of content, the likes of which the world has never seen before.

image of chart representing content volume across different technology eras

As more and more people are realizing, however, the more ubiquitous a commodity, the less valuable it is.

But let’s bust the myth that AI-generated content is inherently inferior to human-created content. Even before the rise of AI tools, well-written content was the exception, not the norm.

In fact, some of the most popular SEO gurus on YouTube have made a living off of recommending that people just copy the structure of top-ranking articles on Google and consolidate them into a massive post to outrank others.

What’s the problem with this approach?

Other than the fact that it mostly doesn’t work, there’s also the fact that it relies entirely on consensus.

Overlap with consensus certainly does matter (an article about the most important sightseeing spots in Rome is unlikely to rank #1 if it doesn’t even mention the Colosseum), but merely agreeing isn’t enough. Adding new and valuable information to the topic is also crucial.

Google has long had ways to detect whether an article adds new value to a topic.

This is the biggest weakness of AI tools. And ironically, it’s the same weakness that mediocre human writers have always had: they have nothing uniquely valuable to say.

AI tools like ChatGPT can help synthesize consensus quickly, but they cannot (as of now) add original insights — at least, not without extensive handholding and guidance from a skilled human.

(There is a way to get around this, but we’ll get to that later.)

How AI is changing SEO in 2024: It’s not just content that’s changing

The way people find content is also changing.

This has important implications for your SEO strategy.

Bing has already integrated ChatGPT into its search engine for months now, and Google has unveiled its generative search experience.

AI-generated search results are likely to increase the prevalence of zero-click searches, where users find what they need without leaving the search engine.

This isn’t new; zero-click searches have been growing over the years; features like local packs, ‘People Also Ask’, featured snippets, and knowledge panels, have all reduced the need for users to click through to websites.

But AI-synthesized search results will take this to the next level, with super personalized, natural-language results that directly answer the specific question that users pose. From an SEO perspective, being on the first page was always crucial, but now, the tendency for the top three results to win almost all the clicks will be more pronounced.

In other words: getting to the top three ranks is even more important, which, again, makes content quality more important.

No doubt, a lot of businesses will decide that SEO is just too difficult and not worth their time. But it’s worth remembering that the cost of paid marketing also changes based on demand, so as more businesses switch to paid ads, those costs will also rise proportionally.

If you’re wondering if the juice is worth the squeeze, check our data-driven guide on the real cost of SEO compared to the alternatives in 2024.

How to effectively leverage AI for your SEO

What do these three articles on sentiment analysisPPC performance, and data visualization, all have in common?

They’ve each gotten hundreds or thousands of backlinks; they rank in the top spots on Google for their target search terms; and they’ve accomplished these things by providing original insights that couldn’t be found anywhere else.

Clearly, relevant and helpful “information gain” is the key ingredient for high-quality articles that rank. But how do you achieve that using AI tools?

You won’t get there by using a prompt that reads something like, “write a blog post about X topic.”

There is a better way.

A ChatGPT content workflow that actually works

  1. Start with an overall content map to get a big-picture overview of your niche. For example: “Create a comprehensive topical map of all the aspects of [your topic] relevant to [your audience]”image of chatgpt prompt for high quality content creation
  2.  Break these down into individual posts and post outlines, covering all the questions and subheadings. For instance: “For each of the categories you listed, suggest ten semantically unique keywords or phrases related to that category. Ensure that there are no overlaps within or across the categories.”
  3. Use these keywords as seed terms for your keyword research.
  4. Once you identify and build a list of suitable keywords, get back to your AI tool to create a cluster of posts to comprehensively cover that subtopic. Typically, a topical cluster includes a pillar post with a broad overview of the subtopic, and individual supporting posts that provide greater detail on that topic.
  5. Create a detailed outline for each post in your clusters to map out each subheading. Remember, the quality of AI output depends heavily on the quality of your prompts. Garbage in, garbage out.
  6. Supplement the outline by analysing search intent and figuring out how you can help your audience by “answering the unasked question.” This could be by answering downstream questions, gleaning insights from data analysis, creating visualizations, offering fresh perspectives through interviews with experts, and so on.
  7. Expand the outline into a full post by using the AI tool to write out each individual section, one subheading at a time. This ensures far higher quality output, but be careful to avoid overlaps between sections.

It’s worth pointing out that using this AI workflow effectively takes skill. Good writing reflects good thinking, and evaluating AI-generated content requires a lot of know-how to discern its quality and to figure out how it can be improved.

Expecting that anybody can use the tool to replace a skilled SEO writer is unrealistic.

Can Google detect AI-generated content?

As OpenAI revealed recently, AI-generated content can’t really be reliably distinguished from human-written content.

image of openai confirmation that ai detectors do not work

I remember trying out one of the detector tools on one of my articles from 2015 — long before language models were publicly available — and the tool declared that the article was AI-written with 98% certainty. (But I’m really human, not an advanced cybernetic organism from the future, I swear!)

That said, the more important question is whether Google cares about whether content is human-written or AI-generated.

We have it straight from the horse’s mouth that AI-written content will not be penalized — at least, not for being AI-written.

image of google confirming that ai content will not be penalized

As the search giant confirmed in 2023, Google will “reward” high-quality content, however it is produced.

What all of this means for you is that you can stop worrying about how your content is produced and start focusing on how well it is produced.

Next steps

For better or for worse, AI is here to stay. As a business, you can future-proof your SEO investment by using quality as a differentiator, and by ensuring that your website inspires trust.