June 12, 2023

The Long Term Costs of Short Term Thinking

We’ve had a LOT of clients ask us about ChatGPT recently. A LOT. 

And in many cases those questions are solid practical ones. 

Do I even need to hire writers any more? Can’t ChatGPT just create SEO-optimized content for me on any subject under the sun? Doesn’t more content = better marketing and visibility for my business?

The short answer is there’s nothing stopping you from loading up the prompts and simply cutting and pasting in your computer generated copy. 

The (slightly) longer answer is that while there’s nothing stopping you from doing this, a quick look back at recent history shows that when it comes to marketing, short term fixes have a nasty way of hiding a long tail sting…

SEO Content Farms – a canary in the coalmine 

When we began to talk about the ups and downs of using ChatGPT for content as a team – the most immediate comparison that came to mind was the influx of content farms that began to flood the scene in the late 2000s/early 2010s. 

How did the content farms operate? 

They’d produce cheaply written content on scale for companies who couldn’t afford real thought leadership –  and would then simply flood the internet with it.

Why flood the market with crap? Well in those days – the key criteria for ensuring your content was ranking in search, was to build backlinks back to your site. 

$500 would not only get you a set of mediocre blog posts (and essentially formulaic repeats of content that would end up on other sites) – but it would get you backlinks through a slightly nefarious method. 

Once a piece of code was in place to beat the ‘Captcha’, a bank of servers could submit your article thousands of times in an hour. For the cost of a single blog post from a half decent writer, you might have a hundred or so articles linking back to your site. 

At first this was read as good – the internet was getting richer. And agencies seemed to have found a silver bullet for SEO. But Google soon cottoned on. And things changed quickly. 

2011 – Black Hat SEO 

Google being Google acted strongly once they realized that the flood of crap content was actually damaging people’s chances of finding an article that would help them with a search. 

In 2011 Google began to punish the flood of questionable content – labelling it ‘black hat SEO’ and promptly dropping sites flooded with it way down the ranks. 

How did they do it? They built an algorithm to recognise where content was being submitted at a rate faster than any human could do it and immediately penalised those articles. 

People literally fell off the face of the Earth when this happened – some never recovered (a guy I knew here in Birmingham, AL was literally run out for providing mass produced content to every law firm in town).

The issue wasn’t one of breaking any laws here – it’s Google not the Federal Reserve – but that folks thought they’d outsmarted the smartest guys in town. 

Once Google realised their reputation was at damage, they quickly moved to shut this behaviour down. 

And for those who’d been hoping that the quick, fast and easy solution they’d bought into wasn’t too good to be true. Well – they soon found out the hard way. 

Bringing it all back home – ChatGPT 

There’s a huge parallel between what was going on back in the day with content farms and the current conversations around ChatGPT. 

What we are essentially discussing – if we’re honest – when clients ask us whether they can use ChatGPT to do the work for them – is a question of will this shortcut work for me. 

While on the surface ChatGPT promises an almost unlimited potential in terms of quick-fixing your way to a fully baked content automation service – things are never that easy. 

ChatGPT will produce something that looks like decent content for you at a prompt. But it’s not going to produce you something that contains an original view

It’s not going to help you with your tone of voice, or in all likelihood to build trust with your target audience

And if the future’s anything like we might guess it to be – it’s likely that Google is going to come down hard on anyone who tries to beat the search engine by flooding their site with un-edited, AI only content. 

If it feels slimy, it probably is. 

And you don’t have to guess at the potential implications – we’ve got ample evidence behind us of what can happen if you rely on a shiny new tool to do all of the work for you.