ChatGPT – What You Need to Know About Artificial Intelligence and SEO
April 14th 2023 | By Emma Grant
It’s the online tool everybody’s talking about. And now it’s time for us to join the conversation about ChatGPT! And because our business is all about SEO, that’s the perspective we’re coming in from. How do AI and SEO work together, and what can we ‘legally’ use ChatGPT for in the eyes of Google?
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven natural language processing tool. Launched in November 2022, it allows you to have near-human conversations with a chatbot, ask questions and get help with tasks such as writing essays, coming up with gift ideas, and working out what to have for dinner using a defined set of ingredients. It can even write code and Excel formulae and build a CV.
You can use ChatGPT free of charge at the moment, because it’s still in its research and feedback phase. There is a paid version called ChatGPT Plus, but it’s currently only open to select users in the United States.
For the free version, you have to set up an account which will prompt you to login to use it each time. But otherwise, there’s no subscription or anything like that involved.
How does ChatGPT work?
ChatGPT was designed by OpenAI. It’s what’s called a ‘large language model’ (LLM), trained on huge volumes of data that can predict the next word in a sentence. The more data it is trained on, the greater the number of tasks it can undertake.
LLMs are not trained to carry out specific tasks though. They are trained with a comprehensive range of knowledge, which they are able to apply in all sorts of areas. It’s a bit like learning by rote versus independent learning. In other words, developing a deep understanding that allows you to problem solve in a range of areas, rather than simply recalling facts.
ChatGPT is much like the human brain, full of general knowledge that it can apply to multiple tasks. It’s also got another large language model built in – InstructGPT – which has trained it to take directions and provide detailed answers to complex questions.
It’s this ability that’s got everyone talking about ChatGPT. We’ve all got to the stage now where we take for granted the fact we can get answers from search engines. But this is something very different.
Google can’t, for example, write an essay on a specific subject, including particular points, sticking to a set word count and adopting a certain tone of voice. But ChatGPT can (subject to the right user input).
However, there are numerous limitations associated with ChatGPT that you really need to know about before you start using it on something as important as your dissertation. Or indeed, on your business’ SEO campaign.
What you need to know about ChatGPT
ChatGPT itself advertises its limitations before you start using it:
Its disclaimer also states:
“ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts.”
And there are other limitations you need to know about…
Doesn’t take responsibility for accuracy
Because ChatGPT works by predicting which words should follow the previous words in a sentence or paragraph on a set subject, the information it generates cannot be considered accurate.
So, if you are concerned with creating accurate, quality written material that passes Google’s best practice for producing reliable, people-first content, then you will need to proceed with caution.
Here’s something from our Head of Content to put this into perspective…
“When we write content for our clients, we place huge importance on making sure it’s factually accurate and up to date. As writers, we follow the ‘three sources’ rule. This means that for every fact we state, we check three unique, official sources to make sure that fact is correct. We also cite our sources for reference (and Google loves to see official sources cited too so it knows the information is reliable).
“Something I’ve noticed about ChatGPT is that whilst it can produce what can sound like a perfectly reasonable and engaging piece of writing on a particular subject, it doesn’t tell you where it got its resource information from. So there’s always going to be that niggling worry that you’re using something that you haven’t verified yourself. Not good for a writer.
“For articles that need to include statistics and research findings, you specifically have to ask for those to be included. It works… ChatGPT does come up with studies and stats, but you still need to check them and make sure they’re up to date, because it doesn’t link to them or tell you how old the research is.
“You also need tell it to give you material that’s relevant to your audience geographically. Unless you ask it to quote UK-based research, it will, by default, give you US-based findings. And it uses US English too, unless you stipulate otherwise.
“Personally, for my own peace of mind, and so that I can confidently publish content for our clients knowing that all the facts have been checked and I’m quoting the most up to date material, I prefer to conduct my own research and write from scratch. But that’s not to say ChatGPT doesn’t have its uses for content creation, like coming up with ideas for what to write, for example.”
Doesn’t stay on top of current events
The fact that the bot is unaware of current events is also rather worrying. It’s not actually aware of anything that was created after 2021.
Now, we know that writing for SEO means writing for people, which usually means your content needs to be fresh and up to date. We also know how quickly information goes out of date. So there’s another thing you need to be careful about when using ChatGPT.
Vague instructions could result in equally vague content
You’ll also need to be prepared to give detailed instructions to get what you need, because ChatGPT doesn’t ask for clarification, it just uses guesswork. So if you are expecting a complex answer, then you’ll need to give complex instructions.
This is especially important when you want to produce content that’s highly original. If you’re in any way vague, chances are you’ll get a piece that’s similar in structure and covers the same subtopics as another article.
If you’re wondering does ChatGPT plagiarise itself, however, then the answer is no. The words across different articles or essays will always be 100% different, but the overall sense of the piece could well be very similar to another.
Can Google detect AI-generated content like ChatGPT, and does it care?
Google’s researchers have been working on algorithms to detect AI-generated content for years and had previously and very clearly outlawed it, with John Mueller labelling it as ‘spam’.
However, the search engine updated its guidelines in October 2022 to reflect its refreshed stance on the subject. Now it says that, providing content is crafted with people in mind, and not written with the sole purpose of boosting search rankings, then where it comes from is not an issue.
Google’s Danny Sullivan said:
We haven’t said AI content is bad. We’ve said, pretty clearly, content written primarily for search engines rather than humans is the issue. That’s what we’re focused on. If someone fires up 100 humans to write content just to rank, or fires up a spinner, or an AI, same issue…
So basically, the spotlight has shifted from the source of the content, to the quality of the content.
Which takes us back to the limitations of ChatGPT. Unless you check the facts it generates to make sure they’re accurate and up to date, and give it very specific instructions to ensure the content it produces is unique, you could run the risk of your published piece being frowned upon by Google because it’s just not good enough quality. In other words, ChatGPT is helpful, but it needs human intervention to make it anywhere near safe.
So are there any SEO tasks we can safely use ChatGPT for?
As a London SEO agency, we were obviously keen to discover the potential for using ChatGPT to help enhance what we do for our clients.
Obviously we’ve seen that the bot has its limitations, and we won’t be using it for content generation any time soon. But what can ChatGPT do for SEO?
ChatGPT can be a real help when it comes to finding related keywords. Simply type in a few of your target keywords, and ask for related ones. Based on its understanding of search results, it will come up with a list in a pretty short timeframe. A lot quicker in fact than traditional keyword research, but also good to use in conjunction with those traditional methods just to reinforce your findings, or give another perspective.
You can use ChatGPT to find long-tail keywords, LSI (latent semantic indexing) terms and keyword clusters. It’s also possible to extract keywords from existing content, so you can see what your competitors are targeting.
And you can also use the bot to find questions on a topic that contain your keywords. And they can make great content ideas…
Content ideas and tantalising titles
Coming up with ideas for your content marketing strategy isn’t always as straightforward as it could be. Your posts need to be relevant, interesting and answer the questions people are currently asking.
If you’ve been writing on a particular subject for some time, you may find yourself running out of fresh ideas. And ChatGPT can help get those creative juices flowing again with some new suggestions.
It can also help you come up with compelling titles for your pieces. Titles are probably one of the trickiest things to conjure up, and it’s so important to get them right because it can seriously influence your click through rate in the search results. It’s something ChatGPT actually does quite well.
Do bear in mind though that your competitors may well be doing the same thing as you with their GPT-assisted content strategy. So take some time to check in on what they’re writing about before you make a start on yours.
And remember to include any geographical instructions. Some content ideas just don’t work cross-border.
Being aware of search intent (or user or audience intent) is hugely important in SEO. It’s all about the purpose of a web search, the reason why someone is searching.
It’s important because Google wants to provide its users with the most relevant content for their query. That’s why knowing what type of content a user wants to find when they type a particular key phrase into a search engine is so valuable. Once you know what they want, you can go ahead and create it and optimise it for those key phrases.
For example, users seeking information or research on a topic (informational intent) will want informative material with plenty of stats and studies.
Someone looking for a product or service (commercial intent) will want to see perhaps supplier comparison or review type results. And for those ready to make a purchase (transactional intent), they’ll want to land on a page where they can click the buy/enquire/download button.
Users with navigational intent will usually be looking for a particular website or type of website.
Here’s an example…
Classify the following keywords based on search intent in a table with the first column for keyword and the second for search intent: [Keyword list]
ChatGPT and SEO – what’s the verdict?
ChatGPT is a pretty cool piece of technology, and it is set to improve over time. In terms of SEO, there are a good few things it can help with. But at the end of the day, it’s a bot. It’s not human, and we need to remember that.
It’s not going to replace anything a human can do anytime soon, not least an SEO strategist, web developer or content writer.
Here at Figment, we quite like it. Anything that speeds tasks and gives us more time to focus on our clients’ needs is good in our eyes. But it has to be said that ChatGPT comes with a host of limitations, and a great big caveat… needs human intervention.
If you’re looking for a London SEO agency that embraces emerging technologies, but always applies the human touch, talk to Figment. We’re dedicated to the success of our clients’ businesses, and would love to speak to you about boosting your online visibility with a tailored SEO campaign.