Danger, Will Robinson!
I just asked a computer program to write a blog for me about the top three reasons to attend private school. In a matter of seconds, it spat out a response that was surprisingly coherent and well … pretty accurate. Don’t take my word for it, here it is in real-time:
When it comes to generating content, artificial intelligence (AI) tools and software like ChatGPT and Jasper might be the next big thing for schools strapped for time, staffing, and resources but want to produce high-quality content for their community and target audiences.
And for schools and districts struggling to keep up with their blog posting schedule (or those looking to start a blog, for that matter), it might feel like a miracle. Free, quick, easy, and (maybe) original content? It almost sounds too good to be true. It might be…
Will AI programs like ChatGPT change the way school marketing and communications offices function, and should we even trust them?
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a chatbot system that automatically answers your questions and can usually give you some responses that are pretty spot-on. It’s equal parts spooky and fascinating. Basically, it’s a learning machine “trained” to recognize patterns in text pulled from across the web, scrape that content, and then pair it with AI to deliver a natural, human-sounding response.
For example, you can ask it why charter schools are popular, you can ask it to create a lesson plan for an introductory art class — you can even ask it to write you a song about school lunches. Behold:
Eat your heart out, Bruce Springsteen.
What makes this different from Google or other search engines is that ChatGPT uses another language model called InstructGPT, which follows instructions to provide long-form answers to complex questions on just about any topic, in any specific way, such as using iambic pentameter or placing limits on word counts or characters.
That raises some interesting questions about how students could use AI to their advantage for completing classwork, essays, or term papers.
Recently, The New York City Department of Education even went so far as to ban ChatGPT from public school networks and devices, given the program’s ability to create essays and the “negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content,” a department spokesperson said.
Should schools use ChatGPT or other AI?
At first, free AI tools for content generation may seem attractive to use when writing content for your school’s website, especially if you’re in the midst of a redesign and are looking for fast and easy content. It could be the perfect prescription for that writer’s block we all get from time to time.
So it begs the question: Why struggle for an hour to write a blog on tuition and affordability when an AI bot can write one for you in a few seconds?
First and foremost, no AI-generated content will be able to capture the true voice of your school community. No robot can express what it’s like to be on campus, walk down the halls, hear the discussions, and live the day-to-day experience. No robot will draft that heartfelt appeal letter for your annual fund director, or create the same inspirational graduation speech from your principal.
The best-optimized content taps into what Google wants to provide for its users. And the SEO strategies you'd want to implement should revolve around relevancy, usefulness, and authority; none of which are priorities for AI technologies.
Understandably, users want to read content that is relevant to their interests and search terms, but they’re also looking for content that’s relatable and easy to understand.
In its “Helpful Content Update,” Google announced it prioritizes content that users deem helpful to users. In an effort to improve user experience, Google confirmed that “unoriginal and low-quality content” doesn’t rank as high compared to authentic and value-driven content.
Writing with authority means writing well — being mindful of spelling, grammar, and proper heading structure. It also means writing informatively with content that can be sourced, peer-reviewed, verified or ranked by other users.
Remember, the most effective content marketing and storytelling come from the heart. When it comes to effectively communicating with your community, no AI algorithm can be a substitute for genuine emotion or lived experiences.
Can using AI hurt your school's search rankings?
Boring, dense, and overly-complicated text can actually hurt your search rankings when it comes to Google algorithms. Furthermore, AI-generated content is actually trackable and can hurt your SEO. In April 2022, it was determined that AI-generated content violates Google’s guidelines.
In fact, this type of content has been such a hot topic recently that Google refined its definition of AI-generated content as the following:
“Spammy, automatically generated (or “auto-generated”) content is content that’s been generated programmatically without producing anything original or adding sufficient value.”
Even ChatGPT’s creator, the for-profit research lab called OpenAI, warns users that it "may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information." The system also knowing admits it:
- Has built-in biases
- Has no awareness of current events
- Is programmed to avoid types of content that are explicit or violent
Now, much of that could be beneficial, but it’s also just one of the differences between a computer program and a human sitting at the keyboard.
Best practices for using AI for SEO and content creation
So now that we know that AI isn't the end-all solution for content creation, does it have a place in your marketing and communications strategy?
Using ChatGPT to create an outline or brainstorm a project can help get the creative juices flowing, but as a best practice, it should be avoided. Parents are looking for the human element in your school when they look for content – it’s one of the ways they’ll begin to connect with your community. Don’t let AI remove your unique personality and voice from your website, blogs, or email communications.
Now, using these programs could be a viable option for creating meta descriptions, page titles, and headlines for web pages and content, considering Google specifically says that’s not necessarily against its guidelines. Tapping into platforms like SEMrush, Google Ads, and Google Trends is a common strategy for keyword research and SEO best practices.
Artificial intelligence and advances in tech are exciting, especially when they seem to make our lives easier. Using them can help fuel ideas and research, but beware of the pitfalls of becoming too dependent on these types of programs — no one knows your school better than you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.