There’s been much debate on the pros and cons of using AI within marketing strategies and as a tool (or in some cases a replacement for human support) to enable businesses to create and share content with ease and less time and money spent.

But those with concerns about AI were validated by Google’s announcement this week, which details an update to its Merchant Center Policy banning AI reviews and labelling them ‘spam’. 

Google bans ‘spam’ AI generated reviews

Businesses have been in a bit of a catch-22 situation in recent months. Those who are aware of the algorithm and its current direction have likely been focusing on putting out a lot more content on their site to satisfy SEO requirements and retain or improve their ranking for relevant keywords. AI has been presented by many as an excellent solution to this – easy, cost-effective, no copywriter required. What we’re seeing is a significant number of businesses posting content regularly which has been created by AI in an effort to align with Google’s focus on user engagement and experience via information as opposed to sales-based strategy. 

To date it has been felt that Google’s approach to AI-generated content has been pretty lax, up until now. This laissez-faire approach has given rise to a lot of social media ‘experts’ telling businesses they can replace marketing teams, freelancers and agencies with ChatGPT, saving a tonne of money in the process. Of course, as with most things it’s not quite that simple. Lacking the crucial human element needed to write compelling copy, AI tools are incapable of capturing tone of voice for a start, and due to the number of people using AI to write social media captions, blogs and sales copy, it’s becoming fairly obvious when ChatGPT is involved because the content always follows a similar structure and uses familiar terms and phrases. It’s impressive, but its capacity to create SEO-friendly and conversion-worthy written content is seriously limited.

Now Google is catching up, likely due to the fact that content generated by AI threatens to impact upon user experience, something Google is increasingly prioritising.

Google’s update reads:

“Automated content: We don’t allow reviews that are primarily generated by an automated program or artificial intelligence application. If you have identified such content, it should be marked as spam.”

What does this mean for businesses using AI-generated content?

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that any reviews that aren’t genuine should of course be categorised as spam. After all, the review function (whilst it is a powerful way to promote your business) primarily exists to inform potential customers and allow them to assess previous customers’ experiences with you. It should always be populated with real reviews from real people.

This announcement is important because it proves two things marketing professionals have suspected since the beginning:

1 – Google’s software is aware of and able to identify where content has been written by AI as opposed to a human being;

2 – Google recognises the negative impact of AI-generated content and as a result, is limiting its use through applying penalties against those who choose to employ AI content on their websites.

Starting with reviews may seem like a strange move from Google, but it’s likely a ‘soft launch’ which offers some insight into their stance on AI content and how it’s likely to affect SEO strategy in the near future.

How does Google know if content has been written by AI?

Google is of course an incredibly secretive company with many layers of security protecting its algorithms and their inner workings. But as they posted this update, they did offer some rare insight into how they are able to distinguish ‘spam’ content and enforce their new policies:

“We use a combination of automated and human evaluation to ensure that content and reviews comply with our policies. Our enforcement technologies use machine-learning algorithms to help protect our merchants and users…

“…complex, nuanced or severe cases are reviewed and evaluated by our specially trained experts who conduct content evaluations that might be difficult for algorithms to perform alone, for example, because an understanding of the context of the piece of content is required.”

In short, Google is using AI as a first line of defence to identify and remove review content that doesn’t fall within its guidelines. This is backed by a layer of humans who can further assess and remove banned content.

There’s learning in this approach, too, for businesses – use AI as a tool, but back it up with human knowledge and support for which there isn’t currently a viable alternative.

Could AI content in other areas be affected?

Yes. This is likely going to be the first of many clamp-downs on AI-generated content by Google. If you’re currently using AI-generated content on your website or plan to, take this as a warning to re-introduce a human element to your copywriting and content creation. Failing to do so now is likely to result in a dramatic drop in organic traffic and Google rankings later down the line.

Bottom line – AI-generated reviews banned by Google

As remarkable and useful as AI technology can be, when it comes to marketing it’s important to exercise caution and use it carefully. Yes, AI can provide powerful data and helpful suggestions and cut down the time spent on content creation and strategy, but this only works well if you use it intelligently enough to avoid penalties which could ultimately harm your growth long-term.

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