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Scribes Without Souls: Why Automated Content Generators Come Up Short

Posted on Thursday, December 10th, 2015 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Consumer Experience, Featured, SEO

Content generators are getting smarter. What does this mean for search engine optimization, and are human writers finally obsolete?

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The age of machines is upon us – or, rather, we’ve been living in it for a while now. With the rise of Google’s RankBrain, self-driving cars, and companies in numerous industries pumping money into the development of robotics and artificial intelligence, it certainly appears that humanity’s end days are nigh. Software and robots have proven to be ever-more-efficient in a variety of fields – mostly service-focused and manual labor-oriented – and have eliminated positions for plenty of our flesh-and-blood-based brothers and sisters. Now, though, the machines have invaded a field not thought likely: content creation. Does this mark the end for writers across the globe? Will the next generation of CEOs oversee bullpens of new, chrome-faced fiends?

The answer is an emphatic “no.” Media outlets like the Associated Press and Yahoo! Sports have already been using automated content tools to produce summaries of things like financial reports and football games. These formulaic pieces would have otherwise occupied the valuable time of journalists. Rather than heralding the end of human writers, programs like Automated Insights allow them to focus on richer, more in-depth pieces. To put it simply, automated content tools take the jobs no writer wants to do, freeing them up to compose the soulful stories that no robot could ever do. It’s precisely those in-depth stories that carry the most weight with both users and search engines.

But while your writers are safe, the growing popularity of tools like Wordsmith does raise some interesting concerns about how automated content will affect SEO going forward.

In the most recent development, Automated Insights released a public beta of their content automation platform, Wordsmith. By utilizing structured data, the tool can generate thousands of pieces of content in very little time. The software is highly flexible and can build a wide array of narratives, from election results to product descriptions and even “Game of Thrones” battle recaps. However, most of this content has a very short shelf life. Few investors will bookmark a company’s Q3 financials and come back in a year. The same goes for sports scores.

Automated content also runs the risk of being duplicative. Devoid of critical analysis, financial statements posted on Site A will look a lot like those on Site B. Content automation is not a quality play – it’s all about quantity. Modern SEO is exactly the opposite.

For SEOs, the idea of Wordsmith may be a source of uncertainty and confusion, especially given Google’s stance on automatically-generated content. While listed in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as a technique that can result in a site becoming penalized, the content examples provided are unlikely to rank to begin with. Software programs are not writing 1,500-word reflections on the state of the tech industry – they’re pushing updates on dividends.

So what can SEOs take away from this new wave of automatically-generated content? Platforms like Wordsmith offer a means to create loads of digestible information in less time than ever before. Time-consuming, data-driven content can be generated in an instant, leaving writers to focus on things that can affect your overall content authority.

We’re not quite at the point where writers can start being thrown out of windows in droves, as there are limits to what these tools can do. The platform authored by Automated Insights can only derive stories from structured data provided by people, and they aren’t without errors. Most importantly of all, the software has no soul. Of course, by this I don’t mean some vaguely-defined, metaphysical essence (although it certainly doesn’t have that, either), but the range of emotions and creative energy that flows through human wordsmiths. The boundaries of the program’s abilities begin to grow more obvious once one sees multiple pieces of its work, which start to read as repetitive and simplistic.

For SEOs, automated content generators aren’t nearly as dangerous as might be assumed. While some may accuse us of whistling past the graveyard on this issue, Google’s continued insistence on long-form, insightful content creates a high hill for automated assistants to climb. So let your SEOs continue to do what they do best: strategize and execute. Robotic writers are not going to serve as useful employees.

…Until the inevitable uprising, of course. But, hey, who’s counting the days until that? Beep-boop.

 

About Daniel Dell-Cornejo

After graduating with a degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge in 2015, Daniel shortly found himself at home at The Search Agency as a content editor. Before his arrival at TSA, he gained valuable experience as a freelance SEO writer and as a contributor for a number of online publications. Appropriately, he finds writing to be his biggest passion, aiming to ultimately become a renowned and published novelist.

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