Natural Language Generation Is Coming to Ecommerce

If you ask an ecommerce professional to list the most important skills in their industry, writing may not be at the top of the list. But well-written copy is essential to the business, both for describing products and reaching out to customers.

In a recent survey of ecommerce professionals conducted by Automated Insights, 94% said their organization considers product descriptions important or extremely important to overall marketing and content strategy. However, only 21% of respondents said their product descriptions are consistently written in the voice of their brand. And 57% said they don’t measure the costs of producing product descriptions – a surprising admission given their importance.

Now, a technology called natural language generation is coming to ecommerce, promising to help professionals write high-quality copy at a speed and on a scale that has never been possible before – all at a measurable (and lower) cost.

What is Natural Language Generation?

Natural language generation (NLG) is a technology for turning raw data into finished product descriptions. It’s an automatic process for writing copy at scale that reads as though each description was typed by hand.

NLG allows one writer to scale his or her work across an unlimited amount of data. A user configures a template, inputs data, and the NLG engine does the rest, writing about the underlying data with the insights and style that the user would apply. Don’t let the word “template” fool you: NLG technology produces narratives that not only read well individually, but are fully unique and distinct from all others in the same narrative batch. As a bonus, they are distinct from the basic manufacturer bullet points that many online retailers use for product descriptions, so NLG-generated copy can help with SEO.

The process is far faster manual writing – after a few hours of configuration time, an NLG platform can generate individual descriptions instantly. This speed allows for unprecedented scale; if the data is available, the right NLG can produce thousands or even millions of unique pieces of content.

Ecommerce is an especially fitting industry for NLG because of the sheer volume of data available about both products and customers. And since communicating about specific products or to specific customers can be expensive, automation via NLG can add incredible value. Here are three clear cases where leading merchants will win with NLG.

Product Descriptions

The data fueling automated product descriptions can include name, price, and attributes like weight, size, color, key features, and anything else a shopper might find relevant. 82% of respondents to the aforementioned survey said they used manufacturer data for help writing descriptions, making such data the most popular source of help.

Currently 79% of respondents say their company relies on internal teams to write descriptions by hand. 4% outsource the writing, and 13% do a combination of both.

NLG offers dramatic improvement over these options by turning product data into reader- and SEO-friendly narratives. NLG can make every product page unique and describe merchandise using whatever tone and style the merchant prefers. The resulting narratives take far less time than manual writing, cost far less than paying outside writers, and provide more SEO benefits than simply relying on pre-existing manufacturer copy.

Category Landing Pages

The data behind category landing pages can include top products, average prices, and common attributes. In a sense, category landing pages are optional; merchants need to have a page for each product, but the number of product categories is a decision each manufacturer must make for themselves. By automating the copywriting for category pages, merchants can create as many as they’d like, targeting niches with extreme specificity.  Where some content-constrained merchants might be limited to a “fishing rods” page, merchants using NLG could create pages for fly rods, spinning rods, or any other of category. These pages can also have a positive effect on SEO rankings.

Personalized Emails

NLG can turn customer information – like demographic details, purchasing habits, and activity on a merchant’s website – into personalized emails that are precisely targeted to each customer, making those emails stand out in a crowded inbox. Imagine an email that didn’t just recommend new products for each customer, but specifically explained, in plain language, why the customer might like these products based on his or her previous behavior.

The emails could even look as though they’d been written by a “Personal Concierge Shopping Consultant,” using a style and tone that looked like a custom-written email.

The Future of Ecommerce

The next time you read copy on a product landing page, you may be reading automatically-generated text. With lots of data and a clear need for narratives, the ecommerce industry is poised to adopt natural language generation quickly in ways both obvious and unforeseen.

Adam Long is Director of Product at Automated Insights.

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