OPINION: What impact could AI have on SEO in the financial services sector?

Jonathan Birch

We’re at the start of an exciting AI revolution, but what does this new technology mean for SEO? In this article, Jonathan Birch, Creative Director at Glass Digital, discusses how search engines are currently responding to AI, as well as exploring how companies in the finance sector can harness the functionality of this new tool to improve their digital marketing.


The artificial intelligence revolution is now well underway, and for businesses willing to invest and get ahead of curve, AI represents a treasure trove of opportunities. Early adopters in the finance sector are already reaping the efficiency and productivity benefits, such as using AI to streamline decision-making, make more informed risks, crack down on fraud, and offer customers a more personalised experience, to name just a few of the possible applications. But what about SEO and digital marketing?

Just like any other online business, companies in the finance sector can benefit from improving their organic traffic via SEO. AI offers many functionalities that may support this goal, particularly when it comes to publishing SEO content marketing. However, because of the limitations of AI in its current form, and the strict regulations the finance sector is subject to, businesses need to take care not to move too fast.

In this article, I’ll take a deep dive into how AI could help — or hinder — your digital marketing strategy and explain what financial service businesses can do to improve organic visibility.


How can AI be used in digital marketing?

Unless you’ve been living off the grid for the past six months, you’ve probably already had your fair share of encounters with AI-generated content by now. You might even have started using an AI chatbot, like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, to manage your workload or make tasks like writing emails that bit easier.

Thanks to its highly advanced language model architecture (called the Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, or GPT) and huge data repository, ChatGPT can write content on almost any subject in a fraction of the time it would take a human author. Naturally, this offers marketers and businesses a quick and resource-efficient mode of content creation that could be used to deliver everything from blog posts to long-form content marketing.

That said, AI isn’t quite the ‘holy grail’ for SEO content that it might initially appear to be. Just because AI tools can create long-form content, doesn’t necessarily mean this content will perform well in the search results. In fact, if not deployed with care, it could even do more harm than good.


Can using AI content harm your site’s SEO?

Google has said that it aims to reward high-quality original content, regardless of whether AI was used to produce it. So, search engines aren’t strictly ‘against’ AI, per se. But, in its present form, AI still has a lot of limitations, and this can make relying on AI to create content designed to boost organic visibility rather risky.

The search engine currently advises publishers to focus on creating helpful, people-led content that demonstrates ‘expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness’ (or E-E-A-T, for short). Google wants to prioritise high-quality content in the search results — regardless of how it was created. So, factors like quality, accuracy, originality, and authority matter more than whether a human or an AI wrote the content.

To date, chatbots like ChatGPT don’t have the ability to find genuine sources or citations to back up a given topic, and will often fabricate (or ‘hallucinate’) citations and sources that don’t exist. The software is also notorious for generating false statements or incorrect answers — a fault that OpenAI has stated is unlikely to change anytime soon.

AI is also dependent on data, but the database may be limited to events that happened before a certain date, meaning these tools won’t be able to incorporate any information, laws and regulations, or world events that happened after that date. As a result, AI is prone to giving out-of-date answers.

Given that one of Google’s most crucial ranking signals is authority and trustworthiness, it’s easy to see how AI-generated content that is riddled with inaccuracies or out-of-date information could have a seriously detrimental impact on search visibility, because it doesn’t meet Google’s standards for E-E-A-T.

As AI uptake increases and this content floods the web, telling fact from fiction could become much more difficult. In a digital landscape awash with potentially unreliable AI content, it’s likely that verifiable, accurate and trustworthy content will become more important than ever to search engines.


Can search engines tell if content is AI-generated?

At present, it’s not known if search engines like Google can judge whether content has been written by AI. However, the consensus at the moment is that the search engine treats AI content as automatically generated spam — which goes against their guidelines and could lead to a penalty (Search Engine Journal).

Google is constantly refining its AI and spam detection algorithms, so even if some people are currently getting away with publishing AI-generated content, the search engine could soon catch up with them. Google’s Search Advocate, John Mueller, likened it to a ‘cat and mouse game’ between publishers and the webspam team (Search Engine Journal).

Either way, it’s safest to work under the assumption that search engines can identify AI-generated content (even if they can’t quite do so with 100% accuracy just yet). Instead of trying to pass off AI content as being written by humans, it’s much more effective to focus on delivering quality content that demonstrates strong E-E-A-T.


How does it apply to the financial services sector?

As you’ll already know, financial businesses are subject to stringent government regulations when it comes to what they can and can’t say, with severe penalties for misleading customers or publishing inaccurate information. But what you might not realise is that search engines have higher standards for the financial sector, too.

While all sites are encouraged to offer a high level of E-E-A-T, the finance sector is held to a higher standard than most. Following shoddy online financial guidance could have serious real-life ramifications on the user, so search engines want to avoid ranking this content at all costs.

To this end, any topics seen as ‘your money, your life’ (health and wealth) subjects are subject to more stringent quality rating criteria. To quote Google’s own guidelines, “on topics where information quality is critically important — like health, civic, or financial information — our systems place an even greater emphasis on signals of reliability.”

As a result, any financial content that doesn’t display strong E-E-A-T is unlikely to rank highly in the search results. Given the fallibility of AI chatbots when it comes to discerning fact from fiction, it’s easy to see how AI-driven content could have poor standards of E-E-A-T and so be unlikely to improve your organic visibility.

Posting lots of poor-quality financial content or advice could even lead to a manual search penalty — where almost all pages on your site disappear from the results. Publishing false statements would also run the risk of more serious sanctions from financial regulators.


What benefits could AI offer to financial websites?

While using AI to create content marketing or product and service descriptions should still be avoided for the reasons outlined above, AI can still be a useful tool with countless applications for your digital marketing efforts. The trick is to apply AI intelligently and creatively, so you can reap the rewards without running the risk of damaging your online visibility and rankings.

While you should avoid using AI to write long-form content marketing, AI can nonetheless be a brilliant tool for ideation and research. Although you’ll naturally want to take any information AI provides with a pinch of salt, tools like ChatDPT-3 do offer a brilliant way to quickly gather lots of ideas, or break down complex topics in an easy-to-digest way. So, it can be really useful for coming up with new ideas or performing initial research.

AI can also greatly help to streamline and automate a lot of tedious behind-the-scenes jobs, freeing up resources and time to devote to much more valuable work. For example, all of the following tasks could be handled at least partly by AI while remaining within Google’s guidelines:

• Automating tedious website admin, like writing alt tags and image descriptions. This frees up time for more important writing tasks.

• Data analysis. AI can quickly process large volumes of data, which might be useful for market analysis or keyword research.

• Identifying trends. AI can be used to spot emerging trends in consumer behaviour, which can give you a direction for your content.

• Improving user experience. AI offers countless solutions for improving user experience, like offering a customised website experience, streamlining the website and speeding up loading, and offering effective customer support via chatbots.


What else can financial sites do to improve SEO in the AI age?

AI might offer a fast and convenient way to generate cheap content, but there’s still no substitute for real expertise — and search engines want to see evidence of this. So, to improve SEO, financial sites should signpost authority and demonstrate their credibility to search engines (and users) by making sure all guides, blogs, and articles are attributed to a person with relevant qualifications.

To do this, make sure all content to a real human author, and add a biography (or a link to an ‘About the author’ page or staff profile) outlining their credentials. Be sure to include job titles, any relevant degrees or certifications, years of industry experience, and links to social accounts or LinkedIn profiles where possible, to clearly show that this is a real individual with insider knowledge. This will help deliver the ‘expertise’ and ‘experience’ criteria that Google is so keen to see.

Naturally, you can also make sure that the highest editorial standards are followed in all content. Any claims or statistics should always be backed up with a credible source. Content should also be rigorously checked and proofread by qualified experts within your company, to ensure that it offers genuinely helpful, trustworthy advice that meets all relevant regulations.

AI is one of the most exciting, disruptive technologies we’ve seen in some time, and AI chatbots and tools could offer marketers and business owners a lot of new opportunities to innovate their digital marketing strategies. However, as things are moving fast, care should be taken to ensure these tools don’t cause more harm than good, particularly in higher-risk sectors like finance. When in doubt, it’s best to speak to an SEO expert or agency, who can help design a strategy that works for your business.

Previous article

Direct Line’s marketing head departs with Customer chief in interim marketing position

Next article

ROUNDTABLE: Achieving true digital transformation needs C-level buy-in

Get access to valuable thought leadership from the financial services marketing industry

Keep up-to-date with current trends and changes across marketing and financial services is vital in this fast-moving business environment.