Justin Tadlock
Last week, the popular Rank Math SEO plugin received a major update that includes a new artificial intelligence system. The Content AI feature is a SaaS product that behaves like a personal writing assistant to boost search rankings.
“We built Rank Math’s Content AI feature to revolutionize the content production and optimization process with proprietary AI that gives SEOs and content marketers a competitive edge,” said Bhanu Ahluwalia, Rank Math’s CMO.
The system allows users to research what their content should look like based on a keyword. Each keyword analysis costs one credit. This data is stored on the user’s server, so the same keyword used on multiple posts does not cost extra. Users get five free credits after signing up for a user account with Rank Math. However, they must upgrade to one of the three commercial plans, ranging from $59 to $499 per year, for more.
Each of the commercial plans comes with a specific number of credits. They are marketed as free extras, but they are not “free” for users who want to upgrade for credits alone. The team says they are working on a pricing solution to address this.
Users should see a new Content AI module that they can enable from the plugin’s Dashboard screen. Turning this on creates a new tab under the plugin’s General Settings page for further configuration.
The Content AI feature works with the WordPress editor, the classic editor, Elementor, and Divi. However, the team plans to extend this support to other page builders in the future
Users can then enter a focus keyword from the post-editing screen and click the Content AI button. From there, they can research their chosen keyword, and Rank Math pulls up suggestions from their system.
The scoring system is easy to understand. Above 80 (in the green) is considered “good.” Anything below might need some work based on the plugin’s recommendations.
The primary suggestions from the Content AI center on total words, links, headings, and media. When asked how the numbers were figured, Ahluwalia said, “This is a computation performed based on the top-ranking content in search engine results pages (i.e., characteristics of content that ranks).” It is a proprietary system, so maybe the team is not ready to give away the exact details.
The feature also lets users copy related keywords to use in their posts, offers questions that the content should answer, and lists potential links to use.
The following video explains how Content AI works:
I am admittedly skeptical of any claims from SEO tools. There is value in most of the plugins in the space, and Rank Math is no different. However, I also want end-users to take SEO or content scores with a grain of salt. Hitting a specific word, link, heading, or media count is not going to make or break you. These should be guidelines, not goalposts.
When asked how the score was calculated, I was pointed to a knowledgebase article on the Rank Math website. Nothing in the Content AI section explicitly explains the “math” behind the score. Essentially, the documentation references how the AI analyzes search results for various factors and describes how the tool works. There is some generally solid advice throughout, but it does not answer how those scores are calculated.
One particular area of concern was the recommended media count for each post. I had access to a full demo of the feature with a few dozen posts to check. Nearly all that I ran through the Content AI had a recommendation of using 18 media. The number felt off. While I cannot claim to be an SEO guru, I do not see why a typical 1,000 or 2,000-word post should need that many images or videos. Even with web-optimized media, that could bring page-loading speed to a crawl for many site visitors.
“That entirely depends on the focus keyword that you had set for your post,” said Ahluwalia on how the recommended count is determined. “Page speed is a ranking factor, but the media count and its associated guideline there is a super simple way to quickly see and consider whether that’s something that you need to do to rank as well. If we’re, for example, looking at the keyword ‘SEO tools,’ the recommendation is as high as 26, which is unsurprising because the majority of ranking content hasn’t just covered essential SEO tools, they’ve covered the 15, 20, or even 109 ‘best SEO tools.’
“This concern with using media in content as it relates to page speed is surprisingly common, but the reality is that content without design doesn’t typically perform particularly well (even if it ends up ranking, then not from a conversion/social sharing perspective because people leave with the impression of encountering a wall of text). A lot of the content on our site wouldn’t be the same without the images in the posts to paint the full picture and distill what are complex SEO processes/ideas into something that’s super simple for people to understand.”
I generally agree that sites should use media alongside text. Looking over one of the demo posts I had access to, the content did not seem to warrant the recommended count.
This particular post had 1,199 words and 32 paragraphs. It also had six images, which presumably played a significant role in the 20/100 score. Content AI recommended 18 instances of media.
Had the post met the recommended media count, there would have been one image for at least every two paragraphs. Even with half that number, visitors would unlikely think they are just “encountering a wall of text.”
Maybe the analysis is correct. Perhaps it will help sites rank. But, that much media mixed in with text strikes me as a sub-optimal reading experience.
My primary concern with tools like Content AI — this applies to SEO plugins in general — is that site owners are trying to make sure they are in the green. Instead of writing for readers, they are writing to rank. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but when end-users take recommendations as gospel, it can lead to stunted prose.
“We completely agree, and while AI content has come a long way, we’re very much also still fans of well-researched content that’s put together by humans like you and I (as is all of the content on our own blog),” said Ahluwalia. “The goal with Rank Math’s Content AI is assisted content production and optimization (streamlined by software).
“Broadly speaking, as you say, traffic-light style scores or numerical scores don’t paint a full picture for most content. This was a very big motivation for the new content optimization suggestions that go beyond typical scoring (that is the same no matter what you’re writing about). When writing something that isn’t search-driven at all (i.e. targeting a keyword and search intent that has little demand and no competition with a thought leadership piece, for example) you’re not writing for searchers, you’re writing for a specific set of people you have in mind. This content is still incredibly valuable though.”
He went on to say that for what the Rank Math team calls “search-driven” content, there are specific elements that well-ranking competing content has in common.
“It goes without saying that when using content optimization tools the consideration for still writing good content that’s helpful has to be there for the end result to be truly exceptional,” he said. “With the aim here being to aid the creation of content, ensuring it addresses search intent, and meets what search engines deem valuable and useful content.”
I still stick with Yoast SEO Premium. Tried switching to Rank Math several times but it has many errors.
I switched initially to RankMath due to the added features that Yoast lacks but now I feel like you are forced to buy credits. It’s almost like they hook you.
I have also had some posts rank on the blog that didn’t have so many media or external links on them so it’s now a bit confusing to see that this tool Content Al recommends so much. Not sure if I will keep it or not
The new “Rank Math’s Content AI feature” shows a TOTALLY different score than the “traditional” SEO score, so one of those has to be wrong. And, by all means, it is the “AI feature” that shows totally illogical suggestions. You have to see to believe. And, talking about illogical stuff, a paid plan like mine receives only 25 credits… for life! Unless, of course, if you upgrade to a really, really expensive plan. For me, as a client, Rank Math marketing is dead. And I won’t renew my plan.
This looks like a neat tool. But, as you point out Justin, this kind of functionality should be used as a guide. It can be a real stretch to write content that matches all of these recommendations.
I’ve had clients who were obsessed with getting that “green light”. It can end up hindering the final product. Yes, you’ve made the plugin nice and happy, but what about the humans who are actually reading the content?
“…you’ve made the plugin nice and happy, but what about the humans…”
Exactly! This kind of feature can be a distraction. Using a straightforward plugin like SEO Framework in conjunction with “Writing for Humans” is a common sense strategy for growing an audience over time. Worrying about pleasing algorithms for extra clicks is perhaps not worth it and definitely not very enjoyable, if you were to ask me.
I can see these features being help in some areas. For example, they can serve as a reminder to use headings or avoid run-on sentences. But so often they’re not sold that way. They’re promoted as a solution for high rankings.
And you’re so right – it’s no fun trying to write to please an algorithm! It sucks the creativity right out of the process.
Very happy Rank Math user, switched from Yoast almost 2 years ago and never looked back. I find this new feature quite exciting, but am confused by the credits system, which is keeping me from buying the pro version.
The only way to get more credits after using up your contingent seems to be to upgrade your plan. After the Agency plan, there’s nowhere else to go, so once you use up your 750 credits, it looks like the Content AI will just become unusable. Quite odd :-/
Rank Math is the BEST plugin out there!
They have always innovated and once I tried them a year back, I have moved all my client sites to them.
Long gone the days of plugins like Yoast & AIO.
I wish they had a package with more AI credits. Upgrading to the Agency plan is not an option for me at this time.
Tried Rank Math since v 1.0 several times, ran again and again into various show stopper bugs, expecially with their filters and action hooks or with custom roles and capabilities, to me it always has been unusable for anything more serious than a simple one admin blog or a basically static 5 page company site, too bad.
Maybe you should contact their support.
They have the best support I have ever received from any WordPress product.
Rank Math is a quite capable SEO plugin and the temptation to use the credit system is compelling. But, adding fees for paid clients is counterproductive. Credit ceilings limit creativity!
I use Surfer to help me write SEO optimized texts, but I will keep the link in mind to test Rank Math if there is ever a need. Still waiting for some results on how Surfer performs.
I asked in the Rank Math Facebook group where the artificial intelligence was in the new AI tool. And instead of answering me, they deleted me directly from the group. I would never use a tool from people with such bad business practices.
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