In 2023, marketers entered a new content battleground. Not only can brands and people become writers and publishers, but now machines can, too.
Together, people and machines create tens of millions of new web pages daily. Do your brand’s blog posts, white papers, videos, and fact sheets have any chance of being discovered and consumed?
You may already have an inbox full of pitches touting AI tools as a way to quickly create more – but will machine-generated content help you get your audience’s attention? Not necessarily.
Google’s position on AI-produced content is clear: “Using automation – including AI – to generate content with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results is a violation of our spam policies.” Yet, Google acknowledges that not all AI content is spam, and AI can serve as “a critical tool to help people create great content for the web.”
Still, there you can put AI and machine learning tools to work in other areas, including content research, optimization, and promotion workflows. Let’s explore important ways to use both AI and human capital to improve your content marketing strategy effectively and sustainably.
Optimize content for people, but don’t ignore SEO
First, though, a few reminders about getting found by people using search engines.
Keep in mind that Google intends for all of its search engine updates (tens of thousands per year) to improve the search experience for human users. So optimizing for search engines isn’t all that different from optimizing for people. But when you optimize for search engines first, you risk doing things that can harm the human reader experience and perception of your brand.
For example, if you begin a piece of content with a list of 15 keywords you plan to use a certain number of times, you’ll likely end up with content that doesn’t read naturally.
Writing for people without a lens for SEO can also be problematic. For example, a great piece of content that lacks schema markup, image alt text, internal links, and headings won’t earn positive attention from search engines. Those elements help Google understand the page so it won’t designate the great content as worthless.
Quality pieces optimized for a human audience ensure better indexing and online visibility from search engine crawlers.
Whether you use AI tools in the process or not, keep these guidelines in mind when creating quality content for people:
Those same steps will help you with search engines by communicating the content’s topical relevance, authority, and importance.
Now let’s look at ways AI can help you write for humans without landing you in hot water with search engines.
Some AI tools help in content research (but ChatGPT doesn’t)
AI content tools are not new. While ChatGPT’s capabilities seriously leveled up the conversation around AI content generation, marketers have used AI platforms like Frase, Clearscope, and other tools to help content marketing processes for years. You may have used them to research topics and create content briefs.
Features vary and new tools pop up regularly, but the best AI content research tools can:
- Analyze top-ranking content for a keyword term or topic and return insights on word count, subheadings, number of images, and internal and external links.
- Suggest related topics, keywords, and entities people often associate with the topic.
- Inspire title and meta-description writing, summarize information, and offer different ways to communicate the information.
- Provide frequently asked questions, commonly linked sources, and other insights to help you understand what your audience expects on the topic.
It’s important to note that ChatGPT isn’t ideal for content research because it uses a data set that ended in 2021.
So, while the aforementioned tools can analyze current results from the live web, ChatGPT cannot create content based on current information. You can use it to sort and categorize keywords by intent, for instance, but you won’t get the most updated list if you ask ChatGPT to create it.
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AI can assist human writers (and already does)
Google acknowledges in its guidance about AI-generated content documentation that machine-generated content can be useful: “Automation has long been used to generate helpful content, such as sports scores, weather forecasts, and transcripts.”
AI does excellent work sorting and categorizing information, creating summaries, and analyzing data. The news wire service Reuters, for example, has been using AI since 2018 when it launched the Lynx Insight tool for its newsrooms. Its proprietary AI tool helped its journalists analyze data, generate story ideas, and write simple copy, acting as a sort of copywriting assistant who happens to have advanced data science skills.
How can you use AI to assist rather than replace human writers? Here are a few ideas:
If you work for a B2B SaaS company, you could use an AI tool to analyze anonymized customer data to create performance benchmarks for your clients. If you work for a retail or e-commerce brand, try using AI to write product descriptions, then send them through human editors for quality control.
Using AI in these ways can expand your human writers’ capabilities and help them scale their efforts.
AI in data reporting
When you pull together data manually for your reporting, it can be a time-consuming, confusing, and uncomfortable task. In fact, 43% of CMOs believe their teams spend more time compiling data than using it to drive decisions. A typical SEO and content practitioner can spend up to four hours a day manually researching, reporting, and analyzing.
On the other hand, AI-automated reporting can simplify reporting operations and empower you with real-time insights into complex performance metrics. AI-powered reporting also can revolutionize the way different stakeholders receive it with dashboards customized for what each business unit wants. Plus, the speed of reporting insights can give your business an edge in responding to changes driven by consumers or competitors. Custom-built dashboards can help with reporting to different business units in your company when they need or want it.
You can integrate AI-automated reporting in several ways, from your CRM to your Google Analytics. You can use many tools, from Google’s Google Looker and Data Studio to my employer BrightEdge’s AI tool.
This AI-automated data report compiles data from traffic based on device, organic search appearances, and content listings on a universal search to glean insights for a content team:
“We are seeing an uptick in demand for instructions and how-to content for our products. Right now, social channels and editorials are winning share of voice. These queries represent an opportunity to help customers and potentially cross-sell products. Let’s discuss how we could prioritize how-to content in the calendar in our meeting.”
Using AI to analyze the data to identify common opportunities and recurring optimizations frees up your content team’s time to focus on more creative initiatives. But, of course, the old adage “garbage in, garbage out” still applies. Your human team must ensure the data it’s fed is most purposeful.
We’re not yet in a state of symbiosis between human marketers and AI, but the possibilities ahead are exciting.
Both humans and machines will still make errors, fail in some respects, and have biases to overcome. So, make 2023 all about balance. AI is best used with human input and supervision. Determine how and where it best augments your content team’s skills, knowledge, and capabilities.
Provide your team time and opportunity to explore how AI can help scale their processes, extend their skills, and focus now on developing best practices for your organization. Give your team permission to try and fail. Today’s lessons will drive your content marketing success into tomorrow and beyond.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute