Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Future of Copywriting
As a copywriter who writes largely for the tech industry in its various forms, I’m pretty well-versed in the merits of AI. As the cornerstone of emerging technologies, it’s being touted as having the potential to solve many of the world’s problems, including climate change.
Despite having written about the topic in various contexts, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d soon be writing about it in relation to copywriting. Yet here I am doing just that. And it feels quite surreal.
With the rise in popularity of AI copywriting tools like ChatGPT, Jasper, and Copy.ai, many copywriters, marketers, SEOs, and coders are pondering how it’ll impact their specific sector. And I’m no different.
Depending on what Reddit thread you read, AI will either help copywriters streamline their writing process, or replace them altogether.
What is AI Copywriting?
AI copywriting is content that has been generated by natural language processing and machine learning.
Natural language processing (NLP) is the way computers interpret human language, and machine learning is the way computers learn without following explicit instructions.
AI copywriting tools require users to provide ‘prompts’, or instructions that the tool then uses to produce copy. Although these tools are still in their relative infancy, in many cases the results they produce can be surprisingly (dare I say worryingly) useful for copywriters.
How Does AI Copywriting Work?
AI copywriting works by leveraging NLP and machine learning to instruct algorithms (or bots) to analyse the content on which it has been trained. The algorithms look for linguistic patterns that relate to the instruction or topic requested by the user.
The latest version of ChatGPT (GPT4), has the ability to analyse web pages and provide response times far faster than any human can.
For example, let’s say we ask ChatGPT (GPT3.5) to ‘write 5 headlines to sell a vacuum cleaner in a humorous tone of voice.’
It generates the following:
- “Suck up the Mess, Not Your Weekend Vibes! Introducing the Ultimate Vacuum Wizard!”
- “Banish Dust Bunnies to Oblivion! Our Vacuum: Making Homes Cleaner and Comedy Shows Funnier!”
- “Messy Floors, Meet Your Match: The Vacuum Cleaner That Sucks (In a Good Way)!”
- “Vacuuming: 1, Dust: 0. Unleash the Laughter and Cleaning Power in One Go!”
- “Cleaning Just Got Real: Our Vacuum Cleans So Well, Even Your In-laws Will Be Impressed!”
Now, the question is…are these any good?
Well, as much as it pains me to admit it, yes – they’re not half bad.
Given the same brief, I’m confident that I’d come up with more nuanced, and generally more effective headlines. However, I couldn’t do it in the 3 seconds it took ChatGPT.
The Benefits of AI Copywriting Tools
Speeds up the writing process
The reality of copywriting is that words don’t appear on screen seconds after receiving a brief. Copywriters need thinking time, research time, coffee time, and then they might be able to start putting words on screen.
With a detailed enough prompt, AI copywriting tools can quickly provide a rough draft of a piece of writing that could speed up the initial writing process.
Eliminates writer’s block
It happens to us more than we’d like. But sometimes, we just get stuck and can’t seem to get the words from our heads on to the screen. AI copywriting tools can be used to provide us with headline ideas or initial sentences to get us started.
Provides variations on shorter copy
If you have messaging idea but feel it could be better, an AI tool could provide you with a list of alternatives that may help guide your copy in the right direction.
AI copywriting can also provide variations on more repetitive types of copywriting like product descriptions. Likewise, they could help you come up with variations on social media messages that fit the style and tone of different platforms.
What AI Copywriting Tools Can’t Do
Okay, so it’s all been fairly positive up until now. However, AI copywriting tools do have their limitations. Here’s what they can’t do (at least not very well…for now):
Create a tailored content strategy
Ask an AI copywriting tool to write a content strategy and it’ll provide you with a generic ten-point checklist of what steps to follow. In reality, a truly effective content strategy requires a deep understanding of a company’s audience, products, services, needs, desires…I could go on.
Only a human copywriter can consider these factors and pinpoint the correct balance of content types, publishing frequency, keyword targets, and tone of voice. All the while factoring in market positioning and emerging trends in whatever industry the company operates in.
AI copywriting tools can’t verify the accuracy of information like a human researcher can. They can only provide suggestions based on the data they’ve been trained on. For this reason, copywriters need to verify anything that AI tools present as fact. Publishing inaccurate information can discredit a copywriter’s reputation as well as that of their clients.
There have already been several incidents where ChatGPT has caused issues by presenting inaccurate information as fact. A recent incident in the U.S saw two lawyers penalised for submitting six fake court citations from the tool.
Likewise, the Guardian reports several instances of being contacted by people looking for links to articles that were never published, only to find that false citations were made in articles written by ChatGPT.
As a copywriter whose work requires a lot of research, I know all too well how difficult it can be to find the original source of a report. I’ve found dozens of websites stating the source of the same report yet none of them can provide a link to it. I’ve started to wonder whether these are cases of AI spreading false information…
AI can only mimic empathy, so any text that comes across as empathetic has been learned as a linguistic pattern. A large part of a copywriter’s job is to build trust and empathy with a reader and that can only be authentically achieved through shared human experience.
Understand the complexities of emotion
AI copywriting can’t comprehend true emotion. It can identify words and phrases that are associated with emotions, but it can’t feel them. And that’s why human writers will always be more capable of connecting with human readers.
Human emotions are complex. They’re subjective, personal, and sometimes they conflict with one another. Only a human writer can accurately describe emotions in a way that engages people on a deep level.
Have a personal opinion based on human experience
As part of ChatGPT’s custom instruction, you can choose whether the tool should express opinions or remain neutral on topics. Of course, these opinions are only stated as such, and the writing is typically devoid of passion.
A large part of the copywriting process involves unearthing a company’s unique selling points. And these typically come from corporate and individual opinion.
Opinion is often used as the basis of an entire narrative structure in a piece of copywriting. So, in that respect, AI copywriting simply can’t compete.
Attend deviceless meetings
As a copywriter, there’s much to be said about gathering information straight from a source’s lips. And if that information happens to be dispersed face-to-face, away from an electronic device, AI will never know of its existence until it’s written down.
And what AI doesn’t know, can’t hurt it.
AI Copywriting and SEO
As copywriters, we do more than simply provide written text. For most of us who write online, we need to understand SEO and how we can use it to ensure our copy is visible in search results. The impact that AI copywriting will have on SEO remains to be seen, however, the latest guidance form Google Search seems to suggest that AI copywriting won’t be penalised in SERPs.
Its guidance states:
‘‘Our focus on the quality of content, rather than how content is produced, is a useful guide that has helped us deliver reliable, high quality results to users for years.’’
We could conclude then, that Google doesn’t care how content is produced, as long as it’s accurate, high quality and meets its E-E-A-T standards: Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
For SEO copywriters, AI could prove useful in crafting meta information that entices readers to click through from SERPs.
At least in the short term…
Google SGE and Its Impact on Copywriting
In May 2023, Google introduced its Search Generative Experience (SGE) for testing in the US. Essentially, it’s a search engine that shows AI-generated content alongside human-written content in its SERPs.
I haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet, being in the UK, however, from what I’ve seen, its aim is to encourage people to stay on Google instead of clicking through to other websites.
The AI results seem to cover topic FAQs rather than displaying featured snippets from other websites. The AI-generated results also take up the entire screen above the fold on a mobile device.
Here’s a good overview of the way the new search tool works.
If Google SGE gets rolled out globally, it could impact the role of copywriting in SEO. People smarter than me are predicting that organic traffic will likely decrease across all websites as Google pushes its AI content above the fold in SERPs.
My twopence is that companies (and copywriters) will need to make an extra effort to stand out in search results with quality content that meets Google’s EEAT standards. Author verification and source citations will become increasingly important in articles, as will editorials that provide personal opinions and expert insights.
What About AI Writing Detection Tools?
Alongside the rise of AI copywriting tools has come the rise of AI writing detection tools like originality.ai. They’re designed to detect AI-written copy and they provide a percentage score to show how much of a piece of text was written by a human and how much was written by AI.
The problem with these tools is that they aren’t very accurate. Originality.ai in particular, claims 99% accuracy, however, the reality is quite different.
Since the start of the year, there’s been a fair bit of paranoia amongst writers because of ‘false positive’ results. Essentially, writers are being accused of using AI when they haven’t.
And many are calling out these tools as being responsible for the end of the content industry.
Only 3 months ago someone pasted a Bible verse into originality.ai and it showed 100% AI was detected. Make of that what you will.
Having had my own copy incorrectly flagged as being written by AI, I’ve spent some time using similar tools (mostly Writer.com’s AI Content Detector) to try and make sense of how they work.
Here are a few of my observations:
It’s possible to take a piece of text that shows 85% AI-written, misspell one word and drop the score to 12% AI-written. Essentially, this is encouraging poor spelling.
Good, concise copywriting is often flagged as being written by AI when it hasn’t. My guess is that it’s because most people (who aren’t copywriters) don’t write concisely. They waffle a bit. They use long sentences. They use long words. I guess you could call this ‘human’ writing, but it’s no good for marketing collateral.
Copy written in a corporate tone of voice is also often flagged as being written by AI. Again, my guess is that these tools see conversational writing as more human, which I understand. However, sometimes there’s no getting around the need for a corporate tone, especially in the financial and medical industries.
My bottom line on AI writing detectors is that they aren’t very accurate. At least not at the moment. In any case, if Google SGE does get rolled out worldwide, their significance will probably decrease.
We already know that Google doesn’t intend on penalising AI-written content. In fact, it’s wholly embracing it. My guess would be that AI writing detection tools will become a resource to use like any other, as we already have with the likes of Grammarly, Readable.com, and Hemingway Editor.
What’s the Deal With New Job Titles Like ‘AIO Writer’ and ‘AI Prompt Engineer’?
There are always early adopters to new technology, especially in marketing. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen these specialist job titles crop up more and more around writing and artificial intelligence.
An AIO writer, for example, is an Artificial Intelligence Optimization writer. In other words, someone who uses AI tools like ChatGPT to produce first drafts, and then edits them to produce a high-quality finished piece.
An AI Prompt Engineer, on the other hand, is someone who writes text prompts for AI tools to generate the highest quality content possible in order to save time on editing.
My take is that as time goes on, most copywriters will be using AI as a tool on a daily basis. So, job titles that specifically mention AI will soon sound outdated. It’ll just be a given that copywriters use AI.
Will AI Replace Copywriters?
It’s unlikely that AI will replace copywriters. It’s more likely that AI will become a tool that copywriters use for ideation and rough drafts. While AI is undoubtedly transforming the way content is generated, it lacks the nuanced creativity, human touch, and strategic thinking that human writers bring to the table.
Many copywriters, myself included, specialise in writing for specific industries that require deep subject knowledge, an understanding of emerging trends, and target audiences.
What’s more, companies with strong brand values require content that makes them stand out in their industry. They typically have tone of voice, style, and messaging guidelines that only human writers can apply consistently across a variety of mediums.
Of course, there will always be companies who are quite happy to publish generic AI-written copy straight from ChatGPT. But those probably aren’t the type of companies that would ever consider using a copywriter anyway.
Thought leadership articles, white papers, and case studies for example, by their very nature, all require research, client meetings, unique human insight and opinion – something that AI simply can’t replicate.
The Future of AI Copywriting
As AI continues to advance, so will the abilities of AI writing tools. And we’d be naïve to think the copywriting industry won’t evolve as a result. I personally think that these tools will raise the bar for copywriting, but they won’t provide a shortcut.
Copywriting is about more than just text. Without an understanding of human psychology and the subtleties of persuasive writing, AI copywriting tools will only ever produce mediocre results.
At its core, good writing is about human connection, and so it’s most effective when it’s written by humans. Human writing makes us feel that we’re connected through shared experiences. It creates a sense of belonging that makes us feel seen, known, and valued. And that’s something that a computer can’t do with any real authenticity.