Robot copywriters set to shake up ad industry as UK AI start-up targets US market”. That headline lit a fire in my belly. The Terminator is here man, but it’s not hunting Sarah Conner, it’s coming for our jobs. It’s gunning down our passions, and we need to stop it.

The Telegraph article explained how a London based start-up had been using Artificial Intelligence to produce “creative marketing copy” (I scoffed at the word ‘creative’) and was planning an expansion into the US market. This, to me, is a step backwards.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progression, but where do we draw the line? I see that creating automatically generated content might make sense in terms of costs, but maybe we need to stop for a minute and think about the real price we are going to pay if we keep pushing for AI to do human jobs. Whilst the Telegraph article in question isn’t stating that all content should be auto-generated, it’s a step towards mass auto-generation, which worries me. Here are the main points to my argument:

Human communication

The art of communication is vital to all species of animal, especially humans. Positive interactions and communications between humans leave us feeling good and studies suggest that they are critical for mental and physical health (as if you really need a study to tell you that).

Although modern communicative methods such as social media do have their downfalls, people have been communicating through written word and imagery for a very long time, way before the Internet or computers even existed, so it makes sense that we should embrace the technological advancements which have allowed us to do so on a massive scale. However, if we start using AI to produce the content we read online, whether that is just ad headlines or entire articles, we are starting to confuse the process of communication.

It is claimed that AI can write copy which is “indistinguishable from that which humans write”, but how can that be so? Each individual human writes differently, and that’s a product of their life experience. If we let AI slip through the creative copywriting door now, who knows what might happen to human communication? If all the content we consume is written by robots, then we might start talking like them too!

Opinions matter

Another quote from the Telegraph article: “What humans do is inject their own cognitive bias and that skews choices which they make and result in ineffective copy being brought to market”. WRONG! THAT IS AN INEFFECTIVE STATEMENT! There are two points to make here.

  1. If you are creating marketing copy for the sole purpose of marketing a product or service, then of course it is going to be written with cognitive bias; in fact, it needs to be! The person writing the copy must believe in the product or service in order to promote or sell it, which sounds like bias to me. If we use AI to write said marketing copy, then perhaps it will detect a flaw in the product/service and start promoting the negatives, rather than the positives. I’m sorry to break it to you all, but sometimes, things aren’t as perfect as we marketers make them out to be, but we use human initiative to word things in the right way to sell or promote. Whoops, did I just let the industry secret slip?
  2. Opinionated content sparks a debate. It gets people talking and therefore generates hype around the subject at hand. It is shared because people passionately agree, but it is also shared because people are outraged (e.g. the Telegraph article in question). Think how bland a place the Internet would be without opinions? There would be no Piers Morgan’s to grind our gears (OK, maybe that’s not such a bad thing) and no George Monbiot’s to set the world to rights. Human opinions/bias make things more interesting.

The black death of creativity

OK, maybe this is a bit extreme, but if content automation should break through and become the most common way of writing copy, think of all the creative minds that would go to waste! While I don’t claim to be the best copywriter in the world, it’s something that I love doing, and if I were to lose that part of my job to AI then I would lose a big part of my passion, and for some it could cost them their job altogether.

Now, I’m not saying that mass adoption of auto generated content would mean millions of people would definitely lose their jobs; I expect the job role would change from ‘copywriter’ to ‘proof reader’, but that would mean millions of people would lose their passion, and while passion cannot be measured in terms of profit or ROI, businesses across the world will certainly notice if those passionate fires are doused.

Putting my SEO hat on

Now let’s look at this from an SEO point of view. I recently attended SMX London, where two different speakers talked about automatically generated content. Whilst one of the speakers promoted the idea of automatically generating content using natural language generation for large websites with thousands of products, the next speaker, a former Google Engineer and part of the Google Search Quality Team, told us that yes Google will recognise this as auto-generated content and no, Google will not like it.

I can see the argument for auto-generating content for thousands of products and in certain situations it might be the most appropriate way forward, but it doesn’t make great SEO. Each page needs to have unique content, and it needs to make sense as Google can pick up on spelling and grammar mistakes. But there’s more to it than that.

To really optimise a piece of content, you can’t just cram the keywords in wherever you feel like it. The keyword needs to fit snugly in between the rest of the words, and the human eye is the best judge of whether it reads well or not. Sometimes, we might not use the main keyword on a page at all if it doesn’t make sense within the copy, and instead use synonyms or similar words. Human decisions about optimising header tags, anchor text, link locations and more can make or break an article, with each case being different to the last.

While I don’t know everything about AI and auto-generation of content, I feel this was an important issue to address and I would be interested to hear all your opinions, as this article is crammed full of mine!

(Written by Tom Crewe, Head of SEO)

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