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Google Says AI Generated Content Is Against Guidelines

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Google Says AI Generated Content Is Against Guidelines

Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller says content automatically generated with AI writing tools is considered spam, according to the search engine’s webmaster guidelines.

This topic is addressed during a recent Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout in response to a question about GPT-3 AI writing tools.

There’s a debate in the SEO community about the use of GPT-3 tools and whether they’re acceptable from Google’s point of view.

Mueller says content written by AI falls under the category of auto-generated content, which could lead to a manual penalty.

However, Google’s systems may lack the ability to detect AI generated content without the assistance of human reviewers.

As we’ll explain later in this article, there are practical uses for AI writing tools and many reputable organizations are using them without issue.

First, let’s look at Mueller’s response to the question about how Google views the use of these tools.

Automatically Generated Content Is Against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

Regardless of the tools used to create it, content written by machines is considered automatically generated.

As Mueller is quick to point out, Google’s position on auto generated content has always been clear:

“For us these would, essentially, still fall into the category of automatically generated content which is something we’ve had in the Webmaster Guidelines since almost the beginning.

And people have been automatically generating content in lots of different ways. And for us, if you’re using machine learning tools to generate your content, it’s essentially the same as if you’re just shuffling words around, or looking up synonyms, or doing the translation tricks that people used to do. Those kind of things.

My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines. So we would consider that to be spam.”

Can Google Detect AI Generated Content?

A follow-up question is asked regarding Google’s ability to identify content written by machine learning tools.

Can Google understand the difference between content written by humans and content written by machines?

Mueller makes no claims about Google detecting AI written content automatically.

Although, if Google’s webspam team happens to find it, they’re authorized to take action on it.

“I can’t claim that. But for us, if we see that something is automatically generated, then the webspam team can definitely take action on that.

And I don’t know how the future will evolve there, but I imagine like with any other of these technologies, there will be a little bit of a cat and mouse game, where sometimes people will do something and they get away with it, and then the webspam team catches up and solves that issue on a broader scale.

From our recommendation we still see it as automatically generated content. I think over time maybe this is something that will evolve in that it will become more of a tool for people. Kind of like you would use machine translation as a basis for creating a translated version of a website, but you still work through it manually.

And maybe over time these AI tools will evolve in that direction that you use them to be more efficient in your writing or to make sure that you’re writing in a proper way like the spelling and the grammar checking tools, which are also based on machine learning. But I don’t know what the future brings there.”

Mueller clarifies Google doesn’t take into consideration how the AI writing tools are being used.

Using them in any capacity is considered spam, he adds.

“Currently it’s all against the webmaster guidelines. So from our point of view, if we were to run across something like that, if the webspam team were to see it, they would see it as spam.”

To hear his full response, see the video below:

What Does This Mean For Your Website?

Here’s some insight from the head of SEJ’s editorial team on what Mueller’s response means for your website.

“I think the biggest takeaway from this particular Q&A is that Google’s algorithms aren’t able to automatically detect content generated by language models such as GPT-3,” says Miranda Miller, Sr. Managing Editor here at Search Engine Journal.

“The message here is that if Google detects automatically generated content, the webspam team could take action. But we aren’t talking about the article spinners of 2003.”

“Artificial intelligence is being used by media, universities, and other organizations for research automation and cross-referencing, crawling and classifying content in many languages to identify emerging trends, generating article and paper summaries, fact-checking, crunching data, and even writing full articles,” she points out.

“The Associated Press began using AI for story generation in 2014. Putting AI to work in content creation is not new, and the most important factor here is its intelligent application,” Miller says, noting that using AI can help content creators overcome language and literacy barriers, improve the quality of their writing, and more.

“These are good outcomes. Wouldn’t it be strange for Google to ban the use of AI by webmasters and content creators for the purposes of improving user experience when they use it so heavily themselves?” she adds.


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The 5-Step Formula To Forecasting Your SEO Campaign Results

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The 5-Step Formula To Forecasting Your SEO Campaign Results

Looking to launch a successful digital marketing campaign for your business?

How do you select the best SEO keywords to expand your brand’s reach?

What can you do to determine the most effective ways to allocate your marketing budget?

Facing these tough decisions can put you on your heels if you’re not equipped with the right information.

Luckily, there’s a new way to leverage your company’s data to estimate your ROI and take the guesswork out of your next campaign.

With a simple mathematical formula, you can predict the amount of traffic and revenue you’ll generate before even setting your strategy in motion – and you can do it all in just five steps.

Want to learn how?

Join our next webinar with Sabrina Hipps, VP of Partner Development, and Jeremy Rivera, Director of Content Analysis at CopyPress, to find out how to analyze specific keywords and forecast your SEO results.

Not too fond of math? Don’t worry – we’ll provide access to free tools and a downloadable calculator to help automate this process and save you time.

Key Takeaways From This Webinar: 

  • Learn how forecasting your SEO can help you build better campaigns and choose the right keywords.
  • Get step-by-step instructions to predict revenue and website traffic for your next SEO campaign.
  • Access a free handout, resources, and online tools that will save you time and supercharge your content strategy.

In this session, we’ll share real-life examples and provide guidance for the decision-makers within your organization to start getting the most out of your marketing efforts.

By better understanding the market potential of your product or service, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions and effectively maximize your ROI.

Sign up for this webinar and discover how you can secure a sufficient marketing budget and use SEO keywords to forecast the results of your future content campaigns.



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Google SEO Tips For News Articles: Lastmod Tag, Separate Sitemaps

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Google SEO Tips For News Articles: Lastmod Tag, Separate Sitemaps

Google Search Advocate John Mueller and Analyst Gary Illyes share SEO tips for news publishers during a recent office-hours Q&A recording.

Taking turns answering questions, Mueller addresses the correct use of the lastmod tag, while Illyes discusses the benefits of separate sitemaps.

When To Use The Lastmod Tag?

In an XML sitemap file, lastmod is a tag that stores information about the last time a webpage was modified.

Its intended use is to help search engines track and index significant changes to webpages.

Google provides guidelines for using the lastmod tag, which could be used to alter search snippets.

The presence of the lastmod tag may prompt Googlebot to change the publication date in search results, making the content appear more recent and more attractive to click on.

As a result, there may be an inclination to use the lastmod tag even for minor changes to an article so that it appears as if it was recently published.

A news publisher asks whether they should use the lastmod tag to indicate the date of the latest article update or the date of the most recent comment.

Mueller says the date in the lastmod field should reflect the date when the page’s content has changed significantly enough to require re-crawling.

However, using the last comment date is acceptable if comments are a critical part of the page.

He also reminds the publisher to use structured data and ensure the page date is consistent with the lastmod tag.

“Since the site map file is all about finding the right moment to crawl a page based on its changes, the lastmod date should reflect the date when the content has significantly changed enough to merit being re-crawled.

If comments are a critical part of your page, then using that date is fine. Ultimately, this is a decision that you can make. For the date of the article itself, I’d recommend looking at our guidelines on using dates on a page.

In particular, make sure that you use the dates on a page consistently and that you structured data, including the time zone, within the markup.”

Separate Sitemap For News?

A publisher inquires about Google’s stance on having both a news sitemap and a general sitemap on the same website.

They also ask if it’s acceptable for both sitemaps to include duplicate URLs.

Illyes explained that it’s possible to have just one sitemap with the news extension added to the URLs that need it, but it’s simpler to have separate sitemaps for news and general content. URLs older than 30 days should be removed from the news sitemap.

Regarding sitemaps sharing the duplicate URLs, it’s not recommended, but it won’t cause any problems.

Illyes states:

“You can have just one site map, a traditional web sitemap as defined by sitemaps.org, and then add the news extension to the URLs that need it. Just keep in mind that, you’ll need to remove the news extension from URLs that are older than 30 days. For this reason it’s usually simpler to have separate site map for news and for web.

Just remove the URLs altogether from the news site map when they become too old for news. Including the URLs in both site maps, while not very nice, but it will not cause any issues for you.”

These tips from Mueller and Illyes can help news publishers optimize their websites for search engines and improve the visibility and engagement of their articles.


Source: Google Search Central

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Google Business Profile Optimization For The Financial Vertical

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Google Business Profile Optimization For The Financial Vertical

The financial vertical is a dynamic, challenging, and highly regulated space.

As such, for businesses in this vertical, optimizing local search presence and, specifically, Google Business Profile listings requires a greater level of sensitivity and specialization than industries like retail or restaurant.

The inherent challenges stem from a host of considerations, such as internal branding guidelines, accessibility considerations, regulatory measures, and governance considerations among lines of business within the financial organization, among others.

This means that local listings in this vertical are not “one size fits all” but rather vary based on function and fall into one of several listing types, including branches, loan officers, financial advisors, and ATMS (which may be inclusive of walk-up ATMs, drive-through ATMs, and “smart ATMs”).

Each of these types of listings requires a unique set of hours, categories, hyper-local content, attributes, and a unique overall optimization strategy.

The goal of this article is to dive deeper into why having a unique optimization strategy matters for businesses in the financial vertical and share financial brand-specific best practices for listing optimization strategy.

Financial Brand Listing Type Considerations

One reason listing optimization is so nuanced in the financial vertical is that, in addition to all the listing features that vary by business function as mentioned above, Google also has essentially different classifications (or types) of listings by definition – each with its own set of guidelines (read “rules”) that apply according to a listing scenario.

This includes the distinction between a listing for an organization (e.g., for a bank branch) vs. that of an individual practitioner (used to represent a loan officer that may or may not sit at the branch, which has a separate listing).

Somewhere between those two main divisions, there may be a need for a department listing (e.g., for consumer banking vs. mortgages).

Again, each listing classification has rules and criteria around how (and how many) listings can be established for a given address and how they are represented.

Disregarding Google’s guidelines here carries the risk of disabled listings or even account-level penalties.

While that outcome is relatively rare, those risks are ill-advised and theoretically catastrophic to revenue and reputation in such a tightly regulated and competitive industry.

Editor’s note: If you have 10+ locations, you can request bulk verification.

Google Business Profile Category Selection

Category selection in Google Business Profile (GBP) is one of the most influential, and thus important, activities involved in creating and optimizing listings – in the context of ranking, visibility, and traffic attributable to the listing.

Keep in mind you can’t “keyword optimize” a GBP listing (unless you choose to violate Business Title guidelines), and this is by design on Google’s part.

Because of this, the primary and secondary categories that you select are collectively one of the strongest cues that you can send to Google around who should see your listing in the local search engine results pages (SERPs), and for what queries (think relevancy).

Suffice it to say this is a case where quality and specificity are more important than quantity.

This is, in part, because Google only allows for one primary category to be selected – but also because of the practice of spamming the secondary category field with as many entries as Google will allow (especially with categories that are only tangentially relevant for the listing) can have consequences that are both unintuitive and unintended.

The point is too many categories can (and often do) muddy the signal for Google’s algorithm regarding surfacing listings for appropriate queries and audiences.

This can lead to poor alignment with users’ needs and experiences and drive the wrong traffic.

It can also cause confusion for the algorithm around relevancy, resulting in the listing being suppressed or ranking poorly, thus driving less traffic.

Governance Vs. Cannibalization

Just as we already discussed the distinction between the choice of classification types and the practice of targeting categories appropriately according to the business functions and objectives represented by a given listing, these considerations play together to help frame a strategy around governance within the context of the organic local search channel.

The idea here is to create separation between lines of business (LOBs) to prevent internal competition over rankings and visibility for search terms that are misaligned for one or more LOB, such that they inappropriately cannibalize each other.

In simpler terms, users searching for a financial advisor or loan officer should not be served a listing for a consumer bank branch, and vice versa.

This creates a poor user experience that will ultimately result in frustrated users, complaints, and potential loss of revenue.

The Importance Of Category Selection

To illustrate this, see the example below.

A large investment bank might have the following recommended categories for Branches and Advisors, respectively (an asterisk refers to the primary category):

Branch Categories

  • *Investment Service.
  • Investment Company.
  • Financial Institution.

Advisor Categories

  • *Financial Consultant.
  • Financial Planner.
  • Financial Broker.

Notice the Branch categories signal relevance for the institution as a whole, whereas the Advisor categories align with Advisors (i.e., individual practitioners.) Obviously, these listings serve separate but complementary functions.

When optimized strategically, their visibility will align with the needs of users seeking out information about those functions accordingly.

Category selection is not the only factor involved in crafting a proper governance strategy, albeit an important one.

That said, all the other available data fields and content within the listings should be similarly planned and optimized in alignment with appropriate governance considerations, in addition to the overall relevancy and content strategy as applicable for the associated LOBs.

Specialized Financial Brand Listing Attributes

GBP attributes are data points about a listing that help communicate details about the business being represented.

They vary by primary category and are a great opportunity to serve users’ needs while boosting performance by differentiating against the competition, and feeding Google’s algorithm more relevant information about a given listing.

This is often referred to as the “listing completeness” aspect of Google’s local algorithm, which translates to “the more information Google has about a listing, the more precisely it can provide that listing to users according to the localized queries they use.”

The following is a list of attributes that are helpful for the financial vertical:

  • Online Appointments.
  • Black-Owned.
  • Family-Led.
  • Veteran-Led.
  • Women-Led.
  • Appointment Links.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Elevator.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Entrance.
  • Wheelchair Accessible Parking Lot.

The following chart helps to illustrate which attributes are best suited for listing based on listing/LOB/ORG type:

Image from Rio SEO, December 2022

Managing Hours Of Operation

This is an important and often overlooked aspect of listings management in the financial space and in general.

Hours of operation, first and foremost, should be present in the listings, not left out. While providing hours is not mandatory, not doing so will impact user experience and visibility.

Like most of the previous items, hours for a bank branch (e.g., 10 am to 5 pm) will be different than those of the drive-through ATM (open 24 hours), and that of a mortgage loan officer and financial advisor that both have offices at the same address.

Each of these services and LOBs can best be represented by separate listings, each with its own hours of operation.

Leaving these details out, or using the same set of operating hours across all of these LOBs and listing types, sets users up for frustration and prevents Google from properly serving and messaging users around a given location’s availability (such as “open now,” “closing soon,” or “closed,” as applicable.)

All of this leads to either missed opportunities when hours are omitted, allowing a competitor (that Google knows is open) to rank higher in the SERPs, or frustrated customers that arrive at an investment banking office expecting to make a consumer deposit or use an ATM.

Appointment URL With Local Attribution Tracking

This is especially relevant for individual practitioner listings such as financial advisors, mortgage loan officers, and insurance agents.

Appointment URLs allow brands to publish a link where clients can book appointments with the individual whose listing the user finds and interacts within search.

This is a low-hanging fruit tactic that can make an immediate and significant impact on lead generation and revenue.

Taking this another step, these links can be tagged with UTM parameters (for brands using Google Analytics and similarly tagged for other analytic platforms) to track conversion events, leads, and revenue associated with this listing feature.

Editorial note: Here is an example of a link with UTM parameters: https://www.domain.com/?utm_source=source&utm_medium=medium&utm_campaign=campaign

 

Financial vertical appointment booking exampleImage from Google, December 2022

Leveraging Services

Services can be added to a listing to let potential customers know what services are available at a given location.

add-services-google-business-profileScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Services in GBP are subject to availability by primary category, another reason category selection is so important, as discussed above.

Specifically, once services are added to a listing, they will be prominently displayed on the listing within the mobile SERPs under the “Services” tab of the listing.

financial-brand-services-google-business-profile-mobileScreenshot from Google, January 2023

This not only feeds more data completeness, which benefits both mobile and desktop performance, and increases engagement in the mobile SERPs (click to website, call, driving directions) which are bottom-funnel key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive revenue.

Google Posts

Google Posts represent a content marketing opportunity that is valuable on multiple levels.

An organization can post relevant, evergreen content that is strategically optimized for key localized phrases, services, and product offerings.

While there is no clear evidence or admission by Google that relevant content will have a direct impact on rankings overall for that listing, what we can say for certain from observation is that listings with well-optimized posts do present in the local SERPs landscape for keyword queries that align with that content.

This happens in the form of “related to your search” snippets and has been widely observed since 2019.

This has a few different implications, reinforcing the benefits of leveraging Google Posts in your local search strategy.

First, given that Post snippets are triggered, it is fair to infer that if a given listing did not have the relevant post, that listing may not have surfaced at all in the SERPs. Thus, we can infer a benefit around visibility, which leads to more traffic.

Second, it is well-documented that featured snippets are associated with boosts in click-through rate (CTR), which amplifies the traffic increases that result from the increased visibility alone.

Additional Post Benefits

Beyond these two very obvious benefits of Google Posts, they also provide many benefits around messaging potential visitors and clients with relevant information about the location, including products, services, promotions, events, limited-time offers, and potentially many others.

Use cases for this can include consumer banks that feature free checking or direct deposit or financial advisors that offer a free 60-minute initial consultation.

Taking the time to publish posts that highlight these differentiators could have a measurable impact on traffic, CTR, and revenue.

Another great aspect of Google Posts is that, for a while, they were designed to be visible according to specific date ranges – and, at one time, would “expire” or fall out of the SERPs once the time period passed.

Certain post types will surface long after the expiration date of the post if there is a relevancy match between the user’s query and the content.

Concluding Thoughts

To summarize, the financial vertical requires a highly specialized, precise GBP optimization strategy, which is well-vetted for the needs of users, LOBs, and regulatory compliance.

Considerations like primary and secondary categories, hours, attributes, services, and content (in the form of Google Posts) all play a critical role in defining that overall strategy, including setting up and maintaining crucial governance boundaries between complementary LOBs.

Undertaking all these available listing features holistically and strategically allows financial institutions and practitioners to maximize visibility, engagement, traffic, revenue, and overall performance from local search while minimizing cannibalism, complaints, and poor user experience.

More resources: 


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