Natural Language Technology Will Destroy Content Marketing As You Know It
Machines are intent on killing off the weak. (I have no proof of that, but it sounds ominous, so let’s go with it.)
Content marketers will not be spared.
But before you run into the streets with your favorite weapon to save the human race, let me offer one small caveat. Machines and their natural language generation algorithms won’t kill all content marketing. (Just so we’re on the same page, let’s define natural language generation as the ability for computers to take data and create narratives out of it.) They will just make it really, really difficult for humans to succeed with poorly done, uninspired content marketing. And heaven knows there’s plenty of that sort around.
A decent portion of today’s content marketing is focused on repeated formulas, gaming Google, and simply churning out content. The natural language technology that is already available and being refined daily will not only do very well with this game of formula content creation—it will dominate.
At first, the automated content will overtake Google search results. But given a bit of time, I believe that eventually well-written human content will regain a foothold.
The same natural language technology that’s spinning out articles is also available to Google’s engineers, who are undoubtedly leveraging that technology as they continue to try to improve search results.
Let me give you example of how Google is using natural language technology to make a better user experience.
Imagine a user, let’s call her Jeanie, searches for “cyber security insurance best practices.” Using natural language technology, Google knows that Jeanie’s phrase has a myriad of other related phrases she could have used. So Google has a large group of phrases and terms that it returns as potential answers to Jeanie’s search.. Google serves up its paid ads, followed by its best guess at the most engaging, helpful content.
Jeanie clicks the first result, like 35% of humans do, and begins scanning. After 20 seconds she hits the back button and clicks the second result. She spends 1.5 minutes on this second page, clicks a link somewhere within that page, and then doesn’t do another Google search for that concept again for 2 weeks. Google now has more data to work with and can weigh the second result more heavily than the first, and at some point (if enough users create similar data stories) what was once search result #2 will be listed #1. What made the difference in those pages? Was it keyword placement, keyword density, keyword anything? No, it was human engagement and satisfying a user’s need to learn.
That’s a scenario based on what Google can do today. As machine learning and artificial intelligence improve, just imagine the set of human behaviors Google will have at its disposal to determine how successfully a page fulfills its promise.
The litmus test will become, “How does this content engage, help, inspire, challenge, and direct a visitor?” rather than just “How many backlinks, what keywords, and how much content exists about a certain topic on this page?”
As humans, we have some innate advantage of understanding how other humans think and respond. As content marketers, it will be more critical than ever to know your audience and their needs, and write in a way that speaks directly to those needs. There will be little room for formulaic regurgitation of facts and data, or even slightly-more-than-mundane storylines in content marketing. The machines will have all that covered.
Technology will manifest the same paradox with natural language generation that it does with all areas of life: The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Essentially, those who produce the least engaging, helpful, and human content now will find themselves in the legendary position of John Henry vs. the steam drill. The end won’t be pretty.
However, those who are pouring their heart and soul into content, mining the insights that only come from human experience, risking enough to be proven wrong, and crafting stories of perspective, insight, and generosity, will continue to produce effective content marketing. The results will prove their worth.
A Note To Content Marketers
If you find yourself writing “by a formula” let that be an early-warning sign that you could be replaced by machines. Machines love formulas. And they’re better at them than you are.
It’s time to start creating content that connects with human readers on a human level. Here are seven qualities that will make your content more human:
Machines are not great with emotion—at least not yet. And, as humans, we’re deeply emotional. In fact, all experiences are colored in some way by emotion, which makes our communication much more nuanced and subtle.
Taking a definite stance—even an unpopular one—has proven to be key to successful content, and yet, we as humans, prefer to avoid taking that risk. I once heard someone say, “If your heart isn’t beating really fast before you hit the publish button, you’re probably not taking enough of a risk.” Of course your content can bomb or backfire, but then again, it could succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Either case beats obscurity.
Perspective is risky, but it’s a safe kind of risk. It’s simply allowing your personal experiences to color your content, and even propel it forward. Pretending to be objective—an admirable yet impossible goal in journalism—is a death sentence for content marketing. If you focus your efforts on objectivity only, you’ll just get soulless content. (And we’ve already figured out that machines can handle that.)
Being able to feel what your readers have felt before they experience your content, or while they’re reading, can become the catalyst for truly great content. Placing yourself in the position of your readers allows you to ask questions, raise objections, feel the boredom or the slight raise in pulse as they encounter your words. Empathy enables you to fully engage your reader intentionally.
If you empathize well, you offer the hope of a better outcome for your readers, especially if they follow your advice. Machines do an awful job at inspiration. That’s good news for you.
Focus your content on providing tangible help through your personal experience, giving people a look into your own journey, and providing genuine solutions. By providing that kind of content without requiring anything other than a bit of time from your readers, you’re taking giant step toward building trust and reciprocity. Those two qualities are critical for effective content marketing.
Natural language generation software, at least of the sort that I’ve seen, does a great job of tying data points together and reporting at lower levels. It still requires a human brain to synthesize what the data sets mean and what action should be taken next. Think interpretation rather than presentation.