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AI for Law Firms: Why Google May Rank AI-Generated Content Over Original News

by Julie Lorson • February 5th, 2024 • AI, Content Marketing, Digital Marketing | Blog

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to grow in popularity and scope, legal marketers may be wondering how such content compares to original, human-generated material when it comes to search engines. Will AI content be penalized and rank lower? Or, does it appear that algorithms boost such content? Here is what law firms need to know about AI-generated content and search engines. 

Does Google Boost AI-Generated Content? 

Recent reports alleged that Google News is boosting sites that copy other outlets by using AI to rapidly churn out more content. Could this be true? 

The short answer is no. Experts from Google say that Google is not doing anything to manually push certain pieces of content higher in search results. According to Google SearchLiason on X, Google continues to depend on its algorithm which uses specific ranking factors to determine which content should rise to the top of search results. 

The truth is that some outlets like syndicated content creators or even content thieves could occasionally outrank original news sources, but the ranking is based on the usual ranking factors that are considered by Google. Meaning, such content is not getting boosted because it is AI-generated, but it could be boosted in spite of being an AI product if it successfully addresses the ranking factors that Google cares about.

Reasons AI Content May Ranking Higher in Google Search and Discover

So why would content from a content aggregator or even a content thief occasionally rank higher than original news sources? There are a few things that are considered in Google’s ranking factors and could lead to higher ranking for various content creators, even AI-generated material. 

  1. Recency – According to the Google SearchLiason on X, one of the big reasons that AI-generated content could outrank other content is due to the recency of news when sorted by date. Sometimes content that was more recently created can be deemed more relevant. What you might see in these instances is a disclaimer from Google that content may be AI-produced. They might use an AI-detection program like Originality.ai to give a percentage of the likelihood that the content displayed comes from AI. 
  2. Domain age and backlink strategy Another factor that is highly considered is the authority of a site. A site with stronger authority, more visibility, and more established links will rank higher. The amount of referring domains and backlinks, along with the length of domain history, are all accounted for in search engine results. That means a website using AI, but with a lengthy domain history and several high-quality backlinks, could rank higher than the original content on a newer website. 
  3. Relevancy – In the event that search engine results are not sorted by date, relevancy is likely the next key factor. The context around the material plays a big role in how high the content will rank. For instance, if a website copies original news articles using AI, it could theoretically still rank higher due to having more context in its sidebar, header, or surrounding articles. This surrounding material might be deemed more relevant to a user’s search query than even the original website. As an example, if a user is searching “divorce attorney”, and you have a single blog article about divorce, it’s likely to be outranked by a site that also has such an article, but alongside the main menu navigation that includes the term “divorce”. 
  4. Crawler access – Are you sure that crawlers even have access to your content? Start by performing a site:domain.com keyword search. Having Google index website content is only half of the battle. The bigger challenge comes in getting Google to place a specific page from your site near the top of the results for a particular keyword query. That being said, understanding how your content is being crawled and indexed in the first place is crucial. It’s a good idea to periodically review content and make sure all of your pages are being properly crawled. 
  5. Topics API – The Topics API is part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox Initiative to improve user privacy. Whereas third-party cookies and other mechanisms used to be common for tracking behavior and topics of interest, the new API observes and records topics that appear to be of more interest to a user based on browsing activity. This data is recorded on a person’s device, and then the Topics API can give API callers access to a user’s topics of interest – but without revealing additional information about the person’s specific browsing activity. This means that it’s possible for a website’s classification to affect its placement with similar websites in Google News. 

Does a “Real” Author Make a Difference? 

It’s also important to note what is not a ranking factor, which is the author. Originally, Google experts said that automatically generated content – such as that created with AI tools – would be against Google search guidelines. Their statements from 2022 said that even high-quality content produced by AI would be against guidelines and likely not to be ranked highly. In 2023, Google released more specific information on AI content. In these directions, they stated that high-quality content would be rewarded – no matter how it was created. They also recommend using disclosures about generative AI content, calling them “useful” when “reasonably expected.” However, they also say that it’s not absolutely necessary to explicitly label AI content as such in order for Google to evaluate the nature of the content. Author bylines are not considered as a ranking factor, but are purely for the searcher’s use. Google doesn’t do anything to “check out” or otherwise evaluate an author’s credentials.

Takeaway: 

Google will continue to update its algorithm and add new generative AI features to search. It’s essential that website owners monitor their site’s visibility in search results as well as continually optimize their website and content for search. When creating content, always consider how recent and relevant your material will be relative to other publishers, and keep in mind the role that quality backlinks can play. Finally, don’t discount social media and other traffic sources when looking for more ways to optimize for search. If you understand the importance of SEO in content marketing but aren’t sure where to start, try our free SEO Audit. The analysis report you’ll get will help you to assess your site’s overall search engine health and track optimization progress. 

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