SEO and Analytics

SEO and AI Content Writing: Should You Use It?

January 21, 2023
By Pam Berg

AI content writing is the talk of the SEO industry right now thanks to ChatGPT, and news of its capabilities has reached business owners far and wide.

We all know that we need fresh, optimized content to help us rank for relevant searches and stay competitive. There tends to be an unfair advantage to bigger companies that employ SEO experts and writers and designers, while small businesses with a tight budget and no marketing team can struggle to produce even one piece of content each month. 

So of course when you hear about a free AI tool that can write everything from blog posts to white papers you get excited – it’s like an extra employee you don’t have to pay! But there’s so much more to AI content writing than meets the eye. 

Here are the key considerations:

So yes, you should absolutely take advantage of AI writing tools to support your SEO strategy – we’re starting to recommend it to our clients to help create website content and blog posts. But the operative word there is “support.”

AI tools themselves are not a strategy; you need to know which jobs to give them to make the most of their capabilities, and which jobs are still best left to humans. That’s what we’re going to talk about right now! It’s a hefty topic, so hold onto your hats – and feel free to use the Table of Contents to jump around. 

What is AI content writing?

AI content writing is the practice of using an artificial intelligence (AI) writing tool to generate online content. This might be for your website, social media, email marketing, or any other aspect of your digital strategy. 

ChatGPT is the hot new AI tool on the scene, shocking the world with its ability to write all kinds of grammatically sound marketing content. But AI writing tools are not new. 

Let’s take a brief look at three types of popular AI tools in marketing and their uses.

1. AI Writing Assistants

AI writing assistants have been around for a long, long time. The first official spell checker was created in Stanford University’s AI Lab in 1971. And for those of us who spent more time in the 1980s using Tandy’s “Text” writing app than playing with other children, we got to use the earliest versions of AI for personal computers. 

A screenshot of a 1980s Tandy desktop with the "Text" app in the middle of the blue DeskMate interface

What AI writing assistants do is take text you’ve already written and suggest ways to improve your spelling, grammar, and readability. They also suggest text to complete sentences based on machine learning (either from other humans or from your own habits). 

They can also auto-correct text for you as you go, which we’ve all seen fail horribly in our messaging apps. 

Screenshot of a text conversation with "mom". The person said "Hey mom! The crack I bought for dad's birthday was about five hundred is that okay?" and the mom replied "Wow! It was so much cheaper when I was young!" The person replied "*cake sorry mom" and then "Wait what? Mom?"

Here are common writing assistants you have probably already used:

  • Built-in proofreading assistants in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Pages, and basically every text document software on the market
  • Built-in proofreading assistants in smartphones
  • Built-in proofreading assistants on any PC or Mac
  • Gmail’s suggested replies and suggested next words or phrases
  • Grammarly and other popular tools that provide suggestions for grammar plus style and tone

That’s just a small sampling. AI writing assistants are everywhere! You can add a browser extension or use a WordPress plugin to proofread pretty much anything you write for your business. 

2. AI Content & SEO Support Tools 

These tools go beyond editing your existing text, and also provide extra benefits specific to content marketing and SEO work

  • SEMRush has an on-page SEO checker for existing content, content templates (based on your competitors), and an SEO writing assistant 
  • CoSchedule has a powerful headline analyzer to help improve SEO and CTR for your headline ideas
  • HubSpot has tools that generate blog titles and buyer persona documentation based on your input
  • Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that grades your content, giving you suggestions to improve the quality, readability, and optimization
  • RankMath is similar to Yoast SEO, as is All in One SEO
  • Copy.AI and StoryLab.AI are among the tools that write social media captions based on your input
  • Chatbots can answer questions 24/7 and help you retain website leads or sales that could be lost outside business hours 

3. AI Content Writing Tools

Finally, we have AI content writing tools – the ones that can write complete copy for you, as long as you ask them the right way. 

Here are some of the leaders in AI writing:

  • ChatGPT – the one everybody is talking about, has search engine-like capabilities and it’s free 
  • Jasper AI – 72% of SEO experts in a poll preferred Jasper over ChatGPT
  • Rytr – this free tool has helpful drop-down options and fields that guide you to delivering an effective prompt, the drawback is the character limit in the fields
  • Chibi – subscription or pay-as-you-go required
  • Article Forge – obviously we love the name, but credit card required to unlock a free trial

I could go on, but this article isn’t just about the tools. You can easily find well-researched roundups of AI content writing tools, like this one from Renaissance Rachel and this comparison of AI writing tools by Search Engine Journal

You can also learn more about free ChatGPT alternatives, for those times when ChatGPT is down or just perplexing you with its output.    

Will AI replace content writers?

That’s a hard ‘no’. I’m going to say a lot of positive things about AI content writing tools later in this article, but I have to be super clear on this point. AI can help us do our jobs by making some aspects quicker and more efficient, but it can’t replace humans in creative fields

You may have noticed a recent wave of articles debating ChatGPT’s ability to eradicate content writing jobs and SEO services:

Screenshot showing two emails in a gmail inbox. The first subject line from Search Engine Journal says "SEJ Today: Will ChatGPT Take Your Job?" and the second, from Moz Blog, says "% Times ChatGPT Steered Me Wrong in Local SEO"

Here’s why: AI tools have been taught how to write well from a technical standpoint, and can be tasked to produce grammatically sound content on specific topics. The quality of writing is higher than it’s ever been.

The difference is that ChatGPT is FREE, which is why everybody is so obsessed with it. 

Unlike other AI content writing tools that have existed for a few years and require a paid subscription, anyone can use ChatGPT right now and as many times as you want – unless the server is too busy being popular, which it often is. There is a paid subscription option that promises to circumvent these overloads.

Screenshot showing the familiar ChatGPT screen for when the server is too busy. It entertains the disappointed user by prompting ChatGPT to write a joke. This one says "Explain the status of Chat GTP as a sea otter." The response is "Squeak squeak! Sorry, ChatGPT is very popular right now. Please try again later! Squeak squeak!"

But like I said at the start of this article, it’s not as simple as just opening ChatGPT and saying “write an article on how to optimize your Google Business Profile” – which is the first thing I ever asked ChatGPT to do. 

There are so many nuances in writing that come from human experience and emotions, from common sense and inclusive thinking, and so many small decisions to be made throughout any piece of content based on your audience and goals. AI just can’t check all of those boxes. 

For now at least, AI needs a skilled human to:

  1. Research keywords, search intent, and/or hashtags
  2. Write the prompts that produce the copy
  3. Revise the content for branded and appropriate language and tone
  4. Revise the content for audience-appropriate readability
  5. Revise the content for biases – AI has learned racial and gender-based biases, among others
  6. Review the content for accuracy – remember that ChatGPT doesn’t know anything after 2021, from events and trends to Google algorithm updates and changes in SEO practices
  7. Review the content for accessibility relating to the page
  8. Review the content’s structure for user experience and SEO
  9. Proofread and/or add additional search engine optimizations
  10. Add conversion optimizations  
  11. Add internal and external links including citing sources

Many AI writers also add a watermark to their copy, such as words placed at specific positions within the text. This watermark helps Google and other search engines and software detect AI  content. How well these watermarks work and whether they’ll get more complex is debatable. 

But if you don’t revise AI copy, or you only kind of tweak it, your content can be flagged as spam for violating Google’s guidelines. This means it can get deindexed (no longer appear in search results), and it is a HUGE process to try to recover from a penalty. 

Then we get into the kind of content that AI just can’t write – the kind based on human experiences and innovative ideas. 

Some of the best content for a business website, the kind that earns great engagement and as a result ranks well, is the kind that comes from your team, their expertise, and what they’ve learned. 

AI doesn’t have intimate stories that make content relatable, and it can’t come up with unique perspectives or fresh ideas either. All it can do is regurgitate information that’s already available on the Internet, but phrased in a different way. Which leads me to…

Should you use AI to write SEO content?

The TL;DR version is this: you totally should use AI to support your SEO activities, but if you’re excited about ChatGPT because you want to use it to crank out dozens of articles on specific keywords and beat that competitor, you’re not even doing content right. 

Sure, you want to optimize your content. It would be crazy not to. But you should start with a topic that your audience truly cares about, such as a question you often get asked or a problem that unites your website visitors. If you’re just chasing keywords, your content will suffer (and probably not rank as well).   

Google’s recent Helpful Content Update and E-E-A-T quality guidelines literally demand that we write content for people, not for keywords. E-E-A-T stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. 

AI content can’t claim expertise or experience because it’s written by a machine, so it’s not possible for it to deliver on authoritativeness or trustworthiness either – not without human intervention. 

This is especially critical to keep in mind if your niche falls under the your-money-your-life umbrella (YMYL). Any content on topics that impact a person’s money or wellbeing must prove the expert credentials of the author and the website in order to rank well. This includes a vast range of topics like news, politics, human rights, social justice, finances, shopping, fitness, and medical or natural wellness content.  

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I did say you should still use AI writing tools. So here we go! 

How and Where to Use AI for SEO and Content Writing

Even though tools like ChatGPT and Jasper are capable of writing ‘complete’ content, it’s better to think of them as your content assistants. With that mindset, the possibilities for how to use them become extremely exciting.

Assuming that all of these come with a “for review” addendum, here are 20 ways to use AI writers:

  1. Write content outlines to help you focus or get past writer’s block
  2. Write emails for use in outreach like link building 
  3. Write social media post captions
  4. Brainstorm headlines and title tags
  5. Perform keyword research
  6. Brainstorm related topics 
  7. Write meta descriptions
  8. Write excerpts and summaries
  9. Write ad copy
  10. Write FAQs 
  11. Write website copy
  12. Write job descriptions
  13. Write replies to reviews and comments 
  14. Do basic audience research
  15. Find articles by topic to aid link building outreach
  16. Translate content into another language
  17. Create different versions of content to split test
  18. Create structured data, hreflang tags, RegEx, and other technical SEO scripts 
  19. Create variations on repetitive content, such as product descriptions and category pages
  20. Produce all of the items on this list quickly and at scale

Here’s an article that presents interviews with SEOs and content marketers on how they use (or don’t use) AI content writing tools in their strategy. There are lots of varied opinions to help you figure out where you want to start. And here’s an awesome article by SEO expert Aleyda Solis on ways to use ChatGPT for SEO (including prompts and results).

AI Writing Prompts

Speaking of prompts: you’ll only get out of any AI writing tool what you put into it, which means your ability to research and write an effective prompt can make or break your success.

A prompt is the set of instructions you give to the AI tool, in order to get the content output you want. 

Writing a quick, basic AI prompt is easy, but you’ll then need to spend more time on every other step because it will only give you the bare minimum of exactly what you ask. Writing an elaborate, detailed prompt will get you a much better piece of content, but it takes time and skill (which could have been invested into writing it yourself). 

For example, when I asked ChatGPT to write an article on “how to optimize a Google Business Profile”, it produced a grammatically correct listicle containing basic steps for that exact task. All of the steps were accurate. But the article was super short, the information was exactly the same as a gazillion other blogs, and some of the phrasing sounded (unsurprisingly) robotic. It was nowhere near the quality we’d publish on the Forge blog.

If you want tips on writing effective prompts, a quick online search will pull up guides specific to your needs. 

Here are general tips to help you write strong prompts and get better results:

  1. Be specific – the more detail, the better 
  2. Include original research as guidance, such as keywords, search intent, hashtags, and audience insights
  3. Give directions for tone, personality, and other elements of your branding
  4. Give instructions for length
  5. Describe the reading level and/or audience needs
  6. Try different variations on how you word your prompt, and compare the results to find the best response 
  7. Try the same prompts in different AI writing tools
  8. Pair AI tools together, such as popping a headline list written by ChatGPT into CoSchedule, putting text from ChatGPT through SEMRush’s SEO writing assistant, or using Grammarly on an AI-produced article

Now here’s proof of how AI writing tools can be useful, but also their downfalls. I wrote that list myself, and then the next day on a whim I asked ChatGPT to write the same list.

Response from ChatGPT is a list as follows:
1. Be specific and clear in your prompts - avoid using overly broad or ambiguous language.
2. Provide sufficient context - the more information you give, the more accurate the AI's response will be.
3. Keep prompts concise - shorter prompts are easier for the AI to understand and respond to.
4. Use proper grammar and punctuation - this helps the AI understand the structure of your prompts and improves its response.
5. Provide a clear goal or objective - let the AI know what you want it to achieve with its response.
6. Be consistent in your formatting - AI models perform best when they receive consistent inputs.
7. Test different variations of prompts to see which ones yield the best results.
8. Be prepared to provide feedback and fine-tune the AI's responses.
9. Consider giving specific examples or references to help the AI understand what you want.
10. Be aware of the model's limitations and biases.

I could have copied the above list into this blog post. It’s well-written and it’s thorough, and longer than mine. These are great tips for someone starting out with an AI writing tool!

But this is actually the third list I produced with almost the same prompt (I changed three words), and they all contained these same tips. Which means that if another content writer was using ChatGPT to write her article, and we both used ChatGPT’s answer – we’d both produce the same list. 

That’s called content noise. Please don’t do that. 

AI Writer Concerns and Dangers

Sci-Fi books and movies have always warned us about the dangers of trusting our work to robots. 

I’m not going to get into all of the legal and moral concerns here, because there is a LOT of news about AI writing tools right now with varying qualifications and perspectives – just make sure you educate yourself before you publish anything to your business website. 

Here are some of the main concerns and dangers surrounding AI writing tools:

  • Producing intelligent-sounding but harmful content, propaganda, and false information at scale
  • Aiding hackers
  • Outranking actual expert-written content
  • Spreading biases
  • Unintentional plagiarism
  • Intentional plagiarism (asking AI to simply rephrase someone else’s content for your work or website)
  • Increasing copyright infringement through easier access to content scraping 
  • AI training using your website’s content without giving you credit or sharing the benefits
  • Liability from false claims 
  • Reducing innovation and creativity
  • Flooding the internet with even more low-quality content noise (can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?) 
  • Downtime – you can’t depend on a tool that’s always down due to a busy server

I wrote that list myself, then later asked ChatGPT to write the same list. My prompt was, “Provide a list of the top concerns and dangers of using ChatGPT and other AI writing tools.” 

ChatGPT came up with points from my list, as well as others that I hadn’t considered: 

ChatGPT response is a list as follows:

1. Misinformation and disinformation: ChatGPT and other AI writing tools can be used to generate false or misleading information, which can spread quickly and cause harm.
2. Bias and discrimination: AI models can perpetuate and amplify existing biases in the data they are trained on, leading to discriminatory outputs.
3. Privacy concerns: ChatGPT and other AI writing tools may collect and store personal information, leading to potential privacy breaches.
4. Lack of accountability: As AI models can generate outputs autonomously, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible for any harm caused by their outputs.
5. Economic disruption: AI writing tools have the potential to disrupt traditional jobs, such as writing and editing, and may have an impact on labor markets.
6. Dependence on technology: Over-reliance on AI writing tools could lead to a decrease in critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
7. Security risks: AI writing tools could be vulnerable to hacking or other malicious attacks, which could compromise the security of sensitive information.
8. Ethical concerns: AI writing tools raise ethical questions about their use, such as how to ensure that they are used for the benefit of society, rather than for unethical or malicious purposes.

I asked Jasper the same question, but about that tool. You can see below that Jasper’s response was much shorter. 

Jasper AI response is a list as follows: 

1. Lack of Quality Control
2. AI writing tools are often not monitored or evaluated for quality, leading to subpar output.
3. Security Risks
4. As with any technology, there is a potential risk of data theft and misuse when using AI writing tools.
5. Misinformation
6. AI writing tools can be used to spread false information if they are not carefully monitored and verified.
7. Exploitation
8. AI writing tools can be used for unethical purposes such as generating spam content or manipulating search results for gain.

Conclusion (by Three AI Tools)

Despite a professional writing career that has spanned over two decades and nearly every possible content medium, I don’t like writing conclusions. I don’t know why. So I asked my new AI content writing pals to write a conclusion for me. 

The prompt: “Write a conclusion for an article about when to use AI content writing tools, and when they don’t work. The point of view is that AI content writing tools are great to support your content and SEO efforts, but can’t replace humans. They can do many tasks, but need a human to review and revise the work.” (You can’t just copy the whole article into the tool and ask for a conclusion – there is a character limit to prompts.)

Here is Jasper’s conclusion

Screenshot of Jasper AI's response:

In conclusion, AI content writing tools are a great resource for optimizing the efficiency of content and SEO efforts. However, they cannot completely replace human input and should always be reviewed by humans before being published. With the right combination of AI writing tools and human editing, it is possible to create top-notch creative content that engages readers.

You can see that my prompt was short and simple, and so the output was also short and simple. It’s sound, but it’s no better than the summary I gave the tool. Jasper needed a much stronger prompt from me. 

Here is the conclusion from ChatGPT for the same prompt:

Screenshot of ChatGPT's response: 

In conclusion, AI content writing tools can be a valuable asset to support your content and SEO efforts. They are able to generate high-quality, unique and diverse content quickly and efficiently, but they cannot replace human creativity, intuition and understanding of the audience. The best approach is to use AI content writing tools to generate the first draft, then have a human review and revise the work to ensure that it is accurate, engaging and on-brand. While AI content writing tools can do many tasks, they still need a human touch to ensure the best results. By using AI content writing tools in combination with human expertise, you can take your content and SEO efforts to the next level.

ChatGPT’s response is stellar. A bit of overkill on the ‘AI content writing’ keywords, and it downplays the effort required to review and revise AI content, but still quite usable. 

This prompt was too long for Rytr’s character limit, so I had to make some tweaks. I chose the tool’s ‘blog sections’ writing option, called the section “Conclusion,” and shortened the prompt for the tool’s ‘keywords’ field like this: “​​AI content writing tools, can’t replace humans, need humans to review and revise, AI tools can support your SEO strategy.”

Here’s what Rytr produced:

Screenshot of Ryter's response:

AI content writing tools have come a long way in the past few years, but they still can't replace human copywriters. AI tools are great for generating ideas and coming up with content quickly, but they can't replicate the creativity and emotion that humans bring to the table.
However, AI content writing tools can be a great asset to any copywriter or content writer. They can help you generate ideas quickly and support your SEO strategy by ensuring that your content is optimized for search engines. Ultimately, though, you will need humans to review and revise the work of these AI writing tools in order to ensure that it meets your standards.

It’s pretty heavy on the keywords, but the intent is what I wanted and it could easily be revised.

As these AI tools have stated (by my instruction), the big takeaway is that AI can be a great support for the small business owner or content marketer. Just make sure that you’re working with the tools, and be extra cautious about the legal and SEO ramifications.

Pam Berg

Pam has backgrounds in journalism, computer forensics, and public libraries, which add up to the perfect mindset for digital strategy. She's been a professional content writer for over 20 years, and working with clients in SEO and analytics for 8 years. Her Instagram feed is equal parts horses, waffles, and drag performers.

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