James Carr

Clients, colleagues, friends… mum. I lied to you all. For months I’ve been hiding a deep dark secret.

Back in March, I wrote a blog post for this very website, with instructions on how to submit a sitemap to Google. Only, I didn’t write it. The article was 100% AI-generated, right down to the meta description.

“I can’t believe you’ve done this…”

I know… I can assure you that this particular road to hell was paved with the best of intentions. We all remember the AI splurge of Spring. A new tool seemed to launch every 17 seconds, and the world of marketing split into two tribes. In the red corner: “AI will replace us all”. In the blue corner: “AI will make our jobs easier.”

But there was another tribe, hovering on the edge of shadow. A tribe that saw the evolution of AI as an opportunity to output thousands of words of content across hundreds of newly published articles without having to involve pesky SEO or content specialists. The internet was up for grabs, and “free” traffic was the prize. Google even changed its stance, giving assurances that, as long as it represented value for the visitor, it would not penalise sites for publishing generated content.

So, despite protests from our content team (sorry again, guys!), I embraced the third tribe and joined the dark side.

The method behind the madness

Creating the article took less than five minutes. I pulled some keywords that were relatively easy to rank against from a competitor website, fed them into ChatGPT (the free version, to ensure maximum murk) along with some semantic terms, took the resulting content, bypassed our usual proofing process, and assured our internal marketing team that the blog post was ready to be published. On 1st March 2023, the deed was done.

This is the exact process that hundreds of websites, and self-professed SEO/AI experts on LinkedIn, have been using since ChatGPT was launched. Traffic levels go up, and snapshots of the clear growth of the number of keywords the site ranks against are shared. All the experts (who, last month, were experts in using the Metaverse for marketing…) pat themselves on the back. Great success, personal brand grown.

“Are you saying that we shouldn’t believe the hype?”

Based on the data I’ve been gathering in the background, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Let’s have a look at some key metrics:

  • The article has been viewed 14 times since launch
  • The Coast website now ranks against an additional 23 keywords

Not bad for five minutes of work, right? Expand those figures to assume I had published 100 articles using this method and we may have seen an additional 1,400 sessions and grown the Coast website to rank against a further 2,300 keywords. Insane returns! Except…

  • The average duration for each view was 14 seconds
  • On average, visitors engaged with one other page during their visit (they typically went to the top-level blog page and then left the site)
  • No conversions were achieved
  • After three months of being live, the top-ranking keyword was “submitting sitemap to google” and we achieved position #16

That data starts to paint a different picture, doesn’t it? Never mind the fact that we shared the article across our social channels, which will have inflated the session data. Everything in the article was factual. You could follow the steps to achieve everything you needed to do. But it didn’t engage actual humans, at all, and despite being “perfect” from an SEO perspective, it didn’t even rank that well.

“So, we shouldn’t use AI?”

AI has a place in the shared sphere of SEO and content creation, but it isn’t a replacement for it. With a few tweaks, I’m sure the original article could have performed much better. But those “tweaks” are things that come to human specialists naturally, due to their understanding of the brand they’re creating content for and an understanding of how to effectively engage readers.

Without that “soul”, we’re just trying to game the system and trick search engines into showing our site to more people. Or worse: Trick clients into thinking that what we’re doing has value to their business. So, you see, my dip into the darkness was in service to the light (something I’m sure all villains tell themselves at some point…).

Trust in human specialists. They may cost slightly more than AI, require more caffeine, take a little longer to produce work and be prone to the occasional breakdown, but they definitely produce better long-term results. They can also be bribed with snacks, just in case anyone is wondering…

Ready to invest in the services of meat and bone marketing specialists? Speak to our experts today to see how we can help you connect with your target audience and achieve long-term results.

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