Content Marketing in an Age of AI and Google: Why Quality Content Matters More Than Ever

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It’s mighty tempting these days to use artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT, Jasper, and Midjourney in creating content to market your business. But what about the question of content quality?

What’s going to happen to content quality in the age of AI?

Everywhere I travelled this summer, people were talking about AI—and asking me, as the owner of a content agency, how I felt about it.

My feelings are complex. I’ve been awed by how quickly it “spits out” words. And by how good those words sound … at first. But oh, it makes me nervous, too. As both a writer and the owner of a content marketing agency, it scares me that people might begin to rely exclusively on AI to generate their content—that they might not need me at all anymore.

I have a slew of questions, too. Is the world still going to need writers? Designers? Content creators? And what is going to happen to thoughtful, soulful, personalized writing and design?

What is going to happen to content quality?

I’m afraid I don’t have answers to all of these questions. But I do know this: content quality matters more than ever—to audiences and search engines. Quality of thought will always matter to discerning audiences who are seeking out solutions to very real, very human problems in business and life. I also believe that strategic quality matters more than ever. After all, if we’re going to live in a world of robots, we need to be very careful about what we tell them to do and how we teach them to do it.

The benefits of AI for content marketing

In our work as a content marketing agency, our chief job is to help clients achieve their business and marketing objectives by using the right content and channels. And a big part of our role as a content partner to purpose-driven clients is to educate and provide useful information to audiences, to grow awareness, and build trust and community.

Traditionally, we’ve done this by becoming exceptionally knowledgeable about the subjects we’re covering. Many of us are experienced journalists who are trained to capture and communicate information about complex industries and topics. And in many cases, we cover the same topics, or ‘beats’ for years and even decades. We understand enough to speak and write knowledgeably. To have opinions.

And today, there’s AI. With its numerous benefits—speed, cost-effectiveness, tuning for SEO chief among the pros—AI-generated content is here to stay. And we’re using it, too, in all kinds of ways, from helping our clients generate content ideas to quickly outlining articles and creating first-draft advertising copy. It’s helping us to become more efficient with some of the rote tasks we’ve previously handled ourselves. And for that, we’re grateful … namely so that we can continue to focus more than ever on elevating our content’s quality.

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios recently hosted a fantastic webinar on Generative AI for Content Marketers. Within it, he highlighted this insight from Paul Roetzer, founder of the Marketing AI Institute: AI won’t replace marketers. Marketers who use AI will replace marketers who don’t use AI.”

The webinar offered practical advice (and oodles of fun-to-experiment-with prompts) for content marketers interested in applying generative AI tools in their work. This observation particularly struck me—that content creators and marketers really do have to get in the game to stay competitive … and relevant.

What it comes down to, for me, is that AI is a new tool in our toolbox that we need to figure out how to use well for our work, while we continue to elevate the vital practice of communicating with one another on a human level, with thoughtfulness, insight, and empathy.

Content marketing in age of AI Shannon Emmerson Forge and Spark Media

The Question of Quality: What IS premium-quality content?

As an agency owner and veteran content marketing practitioner, I know how important it is to ensure that your content is not only consumed and appreciated—that it offers benefits and perhaps even a bit of delight to your readers—but also eminently discoverable, and leading your audience to actions. Here, then, is my take on the key elements of premium-quality content today.

Expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EEAT)

I’m going to start with the way Google looks at quality content. Because, well, they have a wee bit of power over us all—in terms of how our content shows up (or doesn’t) to the people we most want to see it. Google’s ranking systems currently gauge your content’s expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness to determine your content’s level of priority in search. But this is the most interesting bit. They currently employ actual humans to do this work rather than using AI, bots, or algorithms. And personally, I’m on board.

After all, demonstrating one’s expertise is the crux of most content marketing. Show that you know your stuff—through content grounded in experience, knowledge, and insight, along with references to your credentials, experience, product, or service quality, and how your customers think of you (testimonials, reviews)—and you’re well on your way to elevating the quality of your content. And probably your thinking as well.

Showing your experience is the most recently added criteria in the Google ranking system, which I love. Simply put, they’ll rank a content piece lower when the author demonstrates that they don’t know their stuff. Case in point: they’ll demote a restaurant review written by someone who has never eaten there. That’s why, in your content, talk about your experience—exactly why you know what you’re talking about.

Authority is hard-won, certainly. But if you’ve got it, talk about it in your content. What Google means by authority is your reputation within your community, service/product area, or industry in general. They—and your audience—will prioritize and appreciate content that talks about and links to other media that mentions your brand, awards you’ve won, events you’re a part of, courses you’ve offered, and other content you’ve published beyond your own site.

Trustworthiness generally means the reliability and credibility of your content … and it matters. To people and to Google. Technically, for Google, you can ‘achieve’ trustworthiness in your content (and rank more highly) by offering things like sources, links, and showing who’s writing your stuff. Yes, author bios do get rewarded by Google—and are appreciated by your readers, too.

The ‘You-Ness’ of it All

Google won’t reward your “you-ness.” But your audience will. When you can show—in your writing, topic selection, or unique take on a subject—exactly how you stand out from competitors, then you’re starting to cook. You’re starting to show up authentically. And what this does, miraculously, is make people see you as a standout. When you’re competing against content that sounds like everything else, your uniqueness will always tip the balance in your favour.

Communicative Visual Impact (AKA: Clothes May Not Make the Person, but They Make You Feel Amaaaazing)

Visually engaging, well-crafted content makes people take notice. And—quite simply—it makes you seem more professional, established, and “premium” than others. Thoughtful content always encourages your audience to engage and take action. So whether that means exploring your content or downloading a useful resource, it can undoubtedly draw your audience closer.

Why Quality Content Matters to Google, Search in General, and You

Google rolled out an update in 2022 called the Helpful Content Update. This was to combat what they described as too much content “gamed” for SEO and promote more “people-first content creation.”

Amazing, right?

The move signifies a shift toward helping you, as an audience, find truly helpful content—rather than stuff that’s written pretty much exclusively for you to find and then click on, yielding a benefit to the publisher, but NOT to you.

More recently, in its May 2023 core update, the company has moved to improve “how our systems assess content overall.”

How does that work, you might ask? First, a new “Perspectives” filter in Google is aimed at highlighting the relevant experiences of others in your search results. Second, the update aimed to surface “hidden gems” of content that were previously ignored.

In general, what you might remember when it comes to today’s quality-driven SEO is this: intend to do good with your content. By operating with the intent to, as Google puts it, “provide original, valuable content that offers a satisfying experience,” ideally producing content that “adheres closely to [your] area of expertise,” your content is golden in the eyes of Google.

Pro-tip—try this checklist next time before you publish anything:

  • Ensure that your author byline is easy to find and further information about the author is easily accessible.
  • Make it clear, whenever you can, how your content was created. Yep, this includes coming clean when you’ve used AI tools. Perhaps, you can also include evidence, like links and sources, to substantiate the information you’re providing.
  • Make it clear how this content is helpful for your audience. This might include simply adding a line or two about why you’re creating the content, what benefit you hope your audience will get from it, and what kinds of problems it can help solve.

No matter how you create your content, focus on quality

In content marketing, and in business more generally, your audience is the North Star. You must care what they want, need, and think. That way, you can grow awareness, build trust, and drive those targeted actions and sales you seek.

And thankfully, at least for now, Google’s business model is also focused on responding to their users’ (and your audience’s) queries by delivering the best quality articles and websites. This is how they’re going to retain their own customers in an age of increased competition in the search market.

So no matter whether you choose to use AI in your content creation, or develop your content using good ol’ fashioned human brains, what we suggest is this: good intentions, supported by execution with care. The intention to serve your audience with genuinely helpful, delightful, beautiful content IS the start. Following that up with well-researched, well-produced content that shouts out who’s creating it and why IS the way.

Questions about how you might craft higher-quality content for your organization or brand? We help with all stages of the content marketing journey. Reach out to us at hello[AT]forgeandspark.com

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