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Machine-Generated Content: Advantages and Disadvantages

Machine-generated content is an exciting development in the world of artificial intelligence. While automated content can be useful in certain contexts, right now, it still requires a lot of human oversight every step of the way. For that reason, traditional, human-written content still reigns supreme in most instances. However, automated distribution can be a way to introduce new technology into your content marketing strategy.

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When the average person reads a book or an article online, they probably assume that it was written by a human. Increasingly, however, that might not be the case. Machine-generated content is a growing option, and in April of 2019 an entire machine-generated book about lithium-ion batteries was published. If you are wary about the risks of this kind of content automation, you are certainly not alone. Take a deeper look into machine-generated content, how it is used in fields like e-commerce, its advantages and its disadvantages.

Understanding Machine-Generated Content

Content is the backbone of online marketing. Virtually every successful business, big or small, creates content in order to stand out in the sea of websites and social media profiles. Content generation is a booming industry, and it is one that typically involves hiring writers, photographers and other content creation professionals. Some businesses are exploring new ways to create content through machines.

Machine-generated content is just what the name implies: content that has been generated not by humans but by machines. When you read an earnings report from a major publication like Forbes or the product description of a piece of technology, there is a good chance that the content was put together by an algorithm rather than a human writer.

How, exactly, is that even possible? Many business owners are not surprised that software and machines are able to handle relatively complicated tasks, but it might be surprising to learn that algorithms can be within reach of relatively normal businesses. The key lies in automation, repetition and algorithms.

There are some types of content that are very repetitious and leave little room for creativity. Think about an ordinary sports report that recaps a baseball game. Usually, it is a play-by-play, which can be pieced together quickly from statistics about the game or the player. The same can be said from earnings or financial reports, which are just a summation of financial profits, losses and adjustments.

When content follows a formulaic pattern, it can be automated. Software can learn exactly what the content is supposed to look like and then replicate it using preset fields and specific pieces of information. This is achieved through a subset of artificial intelligence known as NLG, or Natural Language Generation. NLG seeks to create copy that looks like something a human would write under the same conditions. Will the next great American novel be written thanks to machines? Highly unlikely. However, there are very real NLG implications for industries like e-commerce.

Where Machine-Generated Content is Used

It is not an understatement to say that machine-generated content is being used in just about every industry and in every content format. However, much of that use is for novelty. After all, it is shocking to find out that an article has been written by a bot, and it can bring in plenty of web traffic. In reality, there are two areas where automated content is being used in large quantities and without fanfare: e-commerce and news writing.

To understand how content automation works in e-commerce, it is important to know a little more about product descriptions. A product description is supposed to be a unique copy that describes the product for sale, describes why this product is different from others in the market and explains how it can be used. Product descriptions are jam-packed with relevant information, and they typically come in under 300 words. A primary function of the product description is to bring in search traffic. That is why a product description needs to have lots of keywords within its text. Whether you are searching for a product on Google or through a sales platform like Amazon, the product description can bring in traffic and be seen by shoppers looking for that particular item.

Since product descriptions are highly informative rather than creative, they are the ideal project for NLG software. Product description generators allow users to input data and product specifications into a template. Then, generators will spit out product descriptions that should be appropriate for the specific product that is for sale. While this isn’t always as effective as it sounds, it is an impressive leap forward for artificial intelligence and technology as a whole.

News writing bots work in a very similar way to product description generators, except their goal is to inform rather than to sell. However, the same concept applies, and software templates require users to input data before turning short pieces of information into a full article or recap. Of course, there are many, many news stories that simply would not work in this format. Breaking news, for example, needs to have human insight and professional writers. Creative stories or any news articles with background research and true journalism require the same. However, shorter pieces like the highlights of a baseball game, where the structure is formulaic, can be created thanks to automated news-writing bots.

The Advantages of Content Automation

Although content automation is still very much in its infancy, it is worth exploring the advantages of using machine-generated content for your business. Major advantages can include affordability and efficiency, not to mention a reduction in the need for labor and schedule coordination.

When businesses turn to machine-generated content, whether that is for an e-commerce website, a news article or anything else, a primary motivating factor is often cost. Content is a necessity, but it is not free. With machine-generated content, it is possible to create content for less money per word. Initially, there may be some costs involved, especially if you have to set up a generator or pay for new software. Over time, however, machine-generated content will typically be more affordable than the cost of paying an author or editor. For companies that are turning out huge amounts of content on a regular basis, the savings can be significant.

The second big reason that businesses turn to machine-generated content is to save time and energy. When you work with humans, there are certain restrictions that exist. People can only work so many hours in a day, and there are set schedules, time zones and working hours that have to be considered. If you have a rush for content in a short amount of time, however, software has no such limitations. You can set up a template, input data and see a staggering amount of content generated in a very short amount of time.

The Disadvantages of Machine-Generated Content

Clearly, there are some advantages to machine-generated content that can’t be ignored. However, it is worth thinking of the adage “Good. Cheap. Fast. You can only pick two at a time.” Machine-generated content can be both fast and cheap at the same time. But, is it any good? Not always. Some of the drawbacks of machine-generated content include hidden costs, mistakes that reflect poorly on your company and potential penalties from search engines.

One of the immediate drawbacks to consider is the hidden cost of machine-generated content. In addition to the cost of any software or programs necessary, you may also need to pay a human to edit the results of the generator. Depending on the quality of the content you desire, this could be a relatively minor cost, or it could end up being just as expensive as the cost a traditional author.

In addition, it is important to clearly distinguish between the work of a machine and the work of a human. A product description written through a program can look clunky or even be filled with incorrect, misspelled information. If a potential customer reads a poorly written product description, they might decide to move onto a different company altogether. Human authors are, of course, subject to human error. However, machine-generated content is far more likely to contain mistakes that programs simply can’t catch. If you want the quality of your content to reflect the quality of your company, then machine-generated content may not be the right choice.

Finally, it is not clear whether search engines will penalize companies for using machine-generated content. Google specifically outlines the types of content that are not allowed to be included or featured in search engine results. These content types include content created by spinning or combining existing text and content created through automation. As of yet, there have not been many significant crackdowns on machine-generated content from search engines. As automated content becomes more popular, however, there may be a bigger emphasis on weeding out machine-generated content or favoring human content over alternatives.

Human Creation + Robotic Distribution = The Ideal Pairing?

Following along with the ride of content automation will definitely be a fascinating process, but it is too soon to say whether machine-generated content will ever be able to compete with traditional written content. That being said, the automated distribution of content is on the rise. As many as 49% of companies automate their content marketing in some way.

To some, this is the perfect way to streamline content production and distribution without sacrificing content quality. Hiring professional writers to create content ensures a level of original, high-quality text. Then, you can automate the distribution process to maximum viewership, engagement and audience rates. This allows businesses to increase efficiency and cut costs without relying on generic, robotic content that could reflect poorly on their company.

Machine-generated content is an exciting development in the world of artificial intelligence. While automated content can be useful in certain contexts, right now, it still requires a lot of human oversight every step of the way. For that reason, traditional, human-written content still reigns supreme in most instances. However, automated distribution can be a way to introduce new technology into your content marketing strategy.


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