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Google Searches Prefer AI Spam to Real Content

Search engine optimization is the holy grail to boost traffic to websites--but in the AI era, even Google's much-scrutinized search algorithm shows a preference for ripped-off, AI-generated material over original content.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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By Kit Eaton @kiteaton

The rise of AI-generated spam articles, now dubbed "AI slop," prompted Google to take steps to contain the influence of this junk material influencing its search results. But a recent report in Wired shows that either Google's policy changes made earlier this year didn't go far enough--or AI-generated content producers have already found workarounds--because some AI-tweaked spam news stories ripped off from the original publishers were found to be ranking above the genuine news articles.

Wired's investigation into the phenomenon involved its own content, and its report first looked into where these AI-faked articles were being published. It found that plagiarized Wired articles were being republished on some spammy AI-generated websites, and showing up higher in Google's search results than the originals. The AI slop pieces used whole quotes from the original articles and some included AI-generated artwork. However the unauthorized content was generated, the spammer was thorough--the plagiarized content also included Wired articles that the magazine had published in 10 languages other than English. News articles ripped from other sites, like Reuters and TechCrunch, were also published, with similar AI-generated imagery on top.

Explaining its campaign against AI-made spam in March, Google's blog post said the search engine was "enhancing Search so you see more useful information, and fewer results that feel made for search engines." It said it expected to reduce the appearance of "low-quality, unoriginal content" in search results by 40 percent. A late April update to the post said Google had actually seen a drop of 45 percent instead. The post also directly mentioned spam, noting Google was making "several updates" to spam policies to "better address new and evolving abusive practices that lead to unoriginal, low-quality content."

The problem is that rising AI technology is making it really easy for ill-intentioned people to easily "scrape" content that is someone else's legal intellectual property, tweak it and republish it. And somehow, this low-quality, AI-generated material still seems to be getting past Google's filters and affecting the ranking of genuine news articles on the site. It's a game of whack-a-mole, of course, just like hacking: when bad actors are prevented from doing one activity, they try something new, which then gets blocked by an algorithm change or other tweak, but the process just repeats itself without a permanent fix.

When Google adjusts its algorithms, it often changes search results that affect businesses that rely on traffic from Google to attract customers and help generate online revenue. While Wired is obviously concerned about how its published news pieces are affected, AI-made spam could easily impact other industries. 

News that AI slop is displacing genuine human-generated content is especially concerning in light of Google's recent decision to retire the infinite scroll it has long used to display search results. The world's dominant search engine is instead returning to an earlier system that displays search results on a number of separate numbered webpages. This change already concerns some web-centered businesses, since opening a search result would require extra clicks, which could be a barrier to traffic in the short attention span habits of many web users. And if your business appears in search results that are listed "below the fold," on pages beyond the first set of results, it's a genuine source of worry: the search preference for AI spam may be pushing legitimate results off the page.

How this affects your company depends on exactly how you generate income, how much reliant your business is on search traffic, and how good your current search engine optimization skills are. But it's an excellent reminder to double check with your web team to ensure they're on top of all the latest SEO trends, and that they're looking for possible AI-generated slop that might even have been grabbed from your own company content.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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