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The Shocking Truth Behind AI in SEO (Study + Data)

We wanted to know the impact AI has on SEO. So, we looked at over 225 different web pages in an original study to see if there is any difference between AI and human content, in terms of rankings, impressions and organic traffic.
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Human SEO is dead.

Or, at least that’s what the conversation within the SEO space has been saying for the past few months.

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has split the SEO world in two – those who are embracing this technology and those who are resistant to its implementation.

But what is the truth behind AI in SEO? Is it really the end of human SEO?

We analysed over 225 different web pages with a near-even split between human and AI authors to determine the impact of AI on SEO. Our findings may surprise you.

Table of Contents

Key Findings:

      • Human content generates up to 6.2x more traffic than AI content.

      • 115% increase in visibility from human content over AI content.

      • AI content creates 1.1x more rankings for an individual page than human content, but they’re not as valuable.

      • 9.2% of human content ranks at the top of SERPs, compared to 5.6% of AI content.

      • On average, human content ranks 1.5 places higher than AI content.

      • Human content ranks on SERPs with 1,317.9% more monthly searches than AI content.
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    What is AI SEO?

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not exactly a new technology, but ever since it was introduced to the general public, it has caused quite a stir.

    This rings especially true within the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) space.

    AI SEO essentially refers to the use of machine learning algorithms (ML) and natural language processing techniques (NLP) to create content and optimise websites for search engines.

    The reason why AI in SEO has become a key talking point within the digital marketing space is that some see it as an effective tool that can perform tasks faster, more efficiently and with greater accuracy than humans.

    We have already seen AI being implemented across a range of sectors, with 30% of adopters reporting up to a 10% increase in revenue post-AI integration.

    But how does AI fare when it comes to SEO?

    From ChatGPT to Google’s Gemini, AI has fast become a staple of the modern digital world.

    And that got us wondering, does it really have the potential to outperform human content creation and optimisation?

    Our study aimed to find out.

     

    Arguments Against SEO AI

    Typically, we like to let the data speak and save any criticism for the end, but we thought it would be best to include this ahead of our findings.

    This way, you have a better grasp of the current AI SEO landscape and why certain results may look the way they do.

    It’ll come as no surprise to you that the use of Artificial Intelligence in SEO is controversial.

    And no, it’s not down to AI taking jobs away from industry professionals (although, to some, that is a vital concern).

    The real issue is with quality and results.

    By its very nature, Artificial Intelligence cannot form new thoughts, opinions, perspectives or arguments.

    It is a technology that will scan the internet and compile information based on pre-programmed algorithms.

    In other words, AI can only work with the data it has been fed.

    It cannot think critically like a human, and therefore it may not be able to provide the same level of creativity and nuance that a human can when it comes to SEO strategies.

     

    Why Google Is Flagging Sites For Excessive AI Use

    Google’s position on AI is a topic of hot conversation.

    For years, automatically generated content was a big no-no within the SEO space.

    But as ChatGPT first came out, Google swiftly shifted their stance on it to be: ‘You can use AI, just make sure the quality is good’.

    A recent turn of events has seen the search engine giant double down on this stance, flagging websites that use AI excessively – especially if it’s used to create low-quality content.

    This means that your website could be completely removed from Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) if you rely too heavily on AI, destroying your online visibility in the process.

    Later in this post, we’ll explore how AI can be used as part of your SEO strategy, but before all that let’s see how you can identify low-quality AI content for yourself.

     

    How To Identify Low-Quality AI Content

    Low-quality content has always been a red flag for search engines.

    Ever since the Panda update, Google has been cracking down on thin or unoriginal content.

    And AI-generated low-quality content is no different.

    Just because you think your content hides the fact that AI has been used to generate text, that doesn’t mean it’s not easily detectable by Google.

    Google’s algorithm is smart.

    It can detect unnatural language and patterns, as well as recognise when the information presented is not original.

    While we don’t know the complete ins and outs of what Google’s bots look for, we do know a handful of key indicators that can be a giveaway for low-quality AI content.

    From the thousands of telltale buzzwords and phrases and Americanisms (especially if you’re a business based outside of the USA) to thin content that lacks depth and a clear argument, there are ways to spot if AI has generated your content.

     

    The Impact of AI on SEO

    Now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, let’s dive into our findings.

    The use of Artificial Intelligence in SEO is rapidly growing, with more and more businesses considering it as a cost-effective way to generate content.

    But what impact does AI really have on SEO? Let’s get into it.

     

    Does AI Generate More Traffic Than Human Content?

    One of the biggest debates within the modern digital marketing space is whether AI content can generate as much traffic as human content.

    The key argument is that AI content can be ‘written’ much faster than human content (4x faster according to a recent Neil Patel study).

    However, this does not necessarily translate into higher organic traffic.

    After analysing over 225 unique web pages, we discovered that human content generates up to 6.2x more traffic than AI content on average.

    Just look at the data for yourself.

     

     

    When you rely on AI for your content creation, you run the risk of actively damaging your website’s traffic potential.

    In fact, our data highlights that human-generated content enjoys a staggering 592% increase in organic traffic compared to AI.

    But why is this?

    Much like what we touched on earlier, AI is not able to bring new ideas, perspectives and opinions forward.

    It will only regurgitate what it has found online, and not always to the standard your users are looking for.

    Google’s bots are actively looking for high-quality content to champion that brings forward new perspectives on topics, rather than rehashing what already exists.

    Bringing forward these new ideas and fusing them with SEO best practices allows your content to potentially rank higher on competitive SERPs, in turn generating more traffic.

    (Later on in this research post, we’ll explore the impact AI has on SERP rankings in more detail. Without giving too much away, it’s a pretty similar story.)

     

    How Does AI Affect Online Visibility?

    It’s not just organic traffic that’s damaged by AI use. It’s also your online visibility.

    After all, how can your website generate traffic if it’s not seen on SERPs in the first place?

    While the damage isn’t as detrimental as the impact on traffic, our findings are still telling.

     

     

    On average, human content gets seen 2.2x more than AI content.

    For reference, that’s a 115% increase in online visibility in favour of human-generated content.

    This suggests that human content will rank higher than AI content, and potentially on more competitive SERPs.

     

    The Impact of AI on SERP Click-Through-Rate

    Looking at the last two datasets, you could assume that human content generates a higher click-through rate (CTR) than AI content, given the 592% increase in organic traffic.

    And you would be correct.

    On average, human content generates a 0.4% higher CTR (1%) than AI (0.6%) on SERPs.

    However, this difference becomes more significant when we analyse the highest CTRs from each dataset.

    The highest CTR for human content stood at 8.8%, while the highest for AI was only 5.3%.

    That’s a 3.5% difference in CTR between human and AI content.

    While this may seem like a small difference, it shows that users are more likely to click on human-generated content compared to AI-generated content when it appears on SERPs.

     

    Will My Content Rank Better With AI?

    Where your content ranks on SERPs is crucial to its success.

    The more relevant keywords your content ranks for, the greater your odds of being seen by your desired target audience.

    But as you know, not all SERPs are built the same.

    Some are highly competitive, with millions of monthly searches.

    Others might only have a handful, but the competition is minimal.

    Ranking is arguably the most critical aspect of SEO, and it’s here where AI may have a slight advantage.

    To our surprise, AI content creates 1.1x more keyword rankings for individual pages than human content, on average.

    This is despite human content creating 407 more keyword rankings for a single page (745) compared to AI (338).

     

     

    While on the surface these results seem favourable to AI, when we look a bit deeper at the data we begin to see the cracks.

    For starters, although AI content creates more keyword rankings for a single page, human content generates 11.8% more individual rankings overall.

    This suggests that while AI may initially generate more rankings, human content has a higher potential for generating long-term and sustained results.

    Additionally, when we look at where these rankings are appearing on SERPs, the results become even more telling.

     

    Why Does Human Content Rank Better On Valuable SERPs?

    While AI has the potential to deliver more keyword rankings to an individual page than human content, these rankings aren’t always valuable.

    Let’s take a look at the top spot rankings for both human and AI-generated content, for example.

    Only 5.6% of AI content ranks at the top of SERPs, compared to a staggering 9.2% for human content – that’s an increase of 64.3%!

    Of these top spot SERP rankings, 50% of the top results for AI content are for search queries with 0 monthly searches.

    Meanwhile, 100% of the top results for human content in our study were for competitive search queries with an average search volume of 120 monthly searches.

    That’s 44.6% higher than the average search volume for AI content (83).

    This suggests that AI content may rank better in low-competition, low-value SERPs, but when it comes to more valuable and competitive search queries, human-generated content reigns supreme.

     

     

    This conclusion is backed by even more data when we compare every post within our dataset that ranks within the top 10 results on SERPs and consider the quality of each ranking.

    As we widen our net to consider the top three results, we see that 16.8% of human-created content ranks at the top of SERPs with an average search volume of 112, compared to only 6.5% for AI content with a search volume of 71.

    Moreover, when comparing the top 10 SERP rankings, we discovered that 37% of human content ranks first page for queries with an average monthly search volume of 397.

    On the other hand, 23.4% of AI content ranks on the first page of their target search query with an average monthly search volume of 28.

    That’s a 1,317.9% increase in monthly searches from AI to human content – and that’s just the pages ranking in the top 10 of SERPs.

     

     

    Overall, we discovered that human content ranks 1.5 positions higher than AI content.

    But why does human content rank higher than AI content?

    It all comes back to the quality of the content.

    Simply put, Google rewards content that is of high quality.

    That typically means providing fresh perspectives on topics, adding value to users, and being written in a way that is engaging and easy to read.

    Human creators are better at this because they understand emotions, context, and tone – elements that AI still struggles with.

    Fuse this with great SEO practice, and you have a winning combination for ranking higher on SERPs.

     

    So, Is AI in SEO a Bad Thing?

    Well… the answer to this is a complicated one.

    While it’s true, our findings have been pretty damning on the use of Artificial Intelligence within the SEO space, we don’t think it should be ignored altogether.

    We believe there is a place for AI within SEO, as long as it’s used carefully and in moderation.

    Using AI won’t completely destroy your SEO strategy in 2024, unless you use it excessively.

    Our results show that just because you can write content faster with AI, doesn’t mean that you necessarily should.

    Less is more with SEO. It’s better to have fewer pages but have them be expertly optimised than to have a tonne of low-quality pages that aren’t going to rank anyway.

    If you think you might be over-reliant on AI, you should probably trust your gut.

    However, that being said, just because a human is writing content for a web page doesn’t guarantee they are guaranteed to rank at the top spot for their target keyword.

    In fact, they could even be out-ranked by a post that has used AI in its creation.

    Without sounding like a broken record, it all comes down to quality.

    It also depends on who is using the tool and how they use it.

    While we’re on the topic of how AI can be used in SEO, let’s quickly run over ways Artificial Intelligence can positively impact your content creation and optimisation efforts.

     

    Best Practices For SEO With AI

    Keyword Research

    The foundation of any SEO strategy is effective keyword research.

    However, this can be a highly time-consuming process.

    Fortunately, utilising AI can give your initial research a major boost.

    AI tools can scan through thousands of keywords and identify those with the most potential for your website.

    They can also provide insights into user intent, search volume, and competitive data – all valuable information when crafting an SEO strategy.

    We would still recommend using your specialist SEO tool of choice to refine your keyword selection, but AI can help narrow down your options and save you time.

     

    Idea Creation

    Although AI can’t create new ideas, it can scan the internet and pull together relevant topics and information to help inspire content ideas.

    By effectively wording your prompt, you can enhance your SEO strategy and discover new, valuable opportunities you may not have otherwise found.

     

    Content Creation

    Yes, our data suggests that AI content creation isn’t as effective as human content creation.

    But that doesn’t mean it’s completely useless.

    AI can be used to generate initial drafts and ideas or provide inspiration for a piece of content.

    Alternatively, AI text could be used to draw inspiration from, especially if you feel like you’ve hit a wall and need a fresh perspective.

    From here, it is then up to you to add your own touch, ensuring the final product is high-quality and engaging for readers.

     

    Content Optimisation

    Artificial Intelligence is getting increasingly more effective at identifying tone and context in writing.

    This proves to be especially effective when it comes to optimising content for search engines.

    By understanding the context of a piece of writing, AI can suggest changes and improvements that will help boost the SEO value of your content.

    Whether you’re optimising your content for voice assistants (like Alexa or Siri) or simply trying to rank for a featured snippet spot, AI can help you identify the tone and context that will resonate best with your target audience.

     

    Automate and Scale Your SEO

    Scaling your SEO strategy can be a challenging task, especially if you’re creating lots of content.

    Luckily, AI can help streamline this process by automating tasks like keyword research, content creation and optimisation.

    This allows SEO teams to focus on more strategic tasks like analysing data and making informed decisions based on insights.

     

    Data Analysis

    If you use Google Analytics 4 (GA4), then you’re already actively using AI as part of your SEO strategy.

    Google Analytics 4 uses machine learning to provide more accurate data and insights, allowing webmasters to make better decisions about their site’s performance and understand if they are achieving the SMART goals they’ve set for themselves.

    As AI continues to improve its ability to collect and analyse data, it will become an increasingly valuable tool for SEO professionals in the future.

     

    The Human Touch Is Not Human Interference

    Regardless of how you use Artificial Intelligence in SEO (if at all), you know your niche and business better than anyone else.

    That means you should use your own judgment when it comes to deciding what content is worth creating, how much effort to put into optimising it, and so on.

    Just because AI can be used to write content for you doesn’t mean it should replace the human element entirely.

    The truth is human SEO is going nowhere.

    The results speak for themselves. Human content clearly dominates AI on SERP rankings in terms of visibility, conversions, traffic and rankings.

    Although it takes more time to write content from scratch, it rewards you with a higher probability of ranking on competitive SERPs.

    That’s not to say AI shouldn’t be used, but rather that it should be utilised in moderation and with caution.

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