I was once asked by a wide eyed college kid, “do you really make a living as a writer?” Just 5 years ago. Yes, I had answered, I actually do. I had surprised even myself. But that to me, was the future of content, right there.
I have been a content writer, editor and strategist for 22 years. Meaning, it took me 22 years to go from writer to editor to strategist – even as I continued all three activities. Now, the reason I made this transition was simple. Apart from my own professional growth, my profession demanded it too. I was not just adding a skill that would take me higher. I was also catering to a fast evolving industry. I was constantly asking myself, what is the future of content? I was taking leaps accordingly. When SEO became the new kid on the block, I may have questioned where that would leave my creativity. But the answer lay in writing with new laws. Because the market had a different way of regulating responses, engagement and finally, your own conversions.
Now, it feels like I was away from my desk for a hot second, and I woke up to find myself in a world I do not recognize. While ChatGPT has been at the back of my mind for a while, it seemed at odds with who I was in my professional life. I remember including it in my five year plan for the book writing app that I am building. It’s right there in my notes – keep an eye on ChatGPT. It seemed like a cool possibility.
Until it wasn’t.
The Future of Content: Is It In Trouble?
Suddenly, I have found a bombardment of sorts on my social media feeds. Everyone is taking on ChatGPT. The content experts I was following have suddenly started to worship a new God. Memes have a new hashtag. Every second person – affiliate marketer, influencer, small business owner, et al – wants to tell you how much money they are making with ChatGPT.
I had already been on a short break since I was revamping my website. And then, I felt like my creative gene was frozen. What is the future of content, I asked myself every single day. Emerging news and incessant reports of ChatGPT swallowing up entire jobs ran parallel to reels on social media. These reels sarcastically told me that they made $10,000 in an hour but I could keep scrolling instead.
It seems like overnight, everyone got divided into two distinct, polar opposite groups – the ones who knew it all, and the ones who were scared. That was the exact thing the founder and CEO of OpenAI, Sam Altman, said in an interview when asked about the initial reaction to AI and ChatGPT.
He said, the initial reaction was fear. Now let’s deep dive into this.
Is ChatGPT Gaslighting Me?
When Altman started to address the popularity of OpenAI and ChatGPT, he said people are having fun with it. Great point! He further went on to elaborate how it rewards people who like to experiment. So far, so good! The problem erupted when he was asked to paint a picture of how it would be 10 or 15 years from now. He started innocently enough when he said, that’s the exciting part. But he unleashed further questions in my mind when he said, it will constantly surprise people with its creative power.
At that point, I saw the future of content writing hanging by a thread. What exactly is he saying? He furthered his thoughts by saying how it would emerge as the collective power of creativity. Yes, my question persisted – but who’s creativity? Mine, or a machines’?
Each time I tried to write in the weeks that followed, I felt slow and inefficient. And this is coming from someone who types 1000 words per 20 – 25 minutes on an average. Add 10 minutes for optimization (checking keyword density, adding inbound and outbound links, alt text, meta description, meta tags, regulate slug, create and upload image, etc). And I felt slow. The cherry on the cake was the reel that proclaimed a certain social media user had written a book in 4 hours.
Now, a little bit of background. I had decided to try ChatGPT. I gave it a simple enough task – write me a guided article on the Mediterranean Diet. It threw back an article of a few thousand words in a matter of mere minutes. The article would be fully optimized. I knew it even before I actually tested it on my trusty Yoast plugin. But that was not the point.
Authenticity Plus Originality
Was it written in my voice? And where else would I see the same article? Or at least some of the same sentences? As a writer, I had taught myself to write technically sound articles. My articles and posts have always been SEO optimized and checked for readability. And more than anything else, they were entirely plagiarism free. That was the extent of it. So even I know that in the world wide web, it would be impossible to write for 22 years and not arrive at the same sequence of words from five articles ago – for at least 2 or 3 sentences per article. And I kept a log of that to avoid plagiarizing my own work. Because my work was usually my client’s work and livelihood.
So, apart from the authenticity, I was also concerned about originality. Where exactly was the future of content, I wondered for the hundredth time. And what would happen if I rejected it? Was I not being woke or something? I had adopted technology like SEO before this, so what was stopping me now? My distrust of ChatGPT came from a simple place: it promised fast money over all else. My trust of SEO had come from one thing: it promised solutions over all else.
In the Future of Content, AI was Always a Player
It was one night, after a full 45 minutes of relentless scrolling and note taking, that I finally realized it. AI was always there. It was just evolving slowly and now it has made a grand entrance. Google was always trying to finish my sentences for me. In fact, it gave me more to search for. I used tools that would summarize webinars and calls. I would use Answer the Public for search intent keywords. And even Canva had recently started to roll out features like Magic Write.
So, I did a different kind of deep dive. I switched off the reels that were telling me how I was never going to make money again unless I handed my sanity to a bot. I went to the pages and channels of self made digital thought leaders I had followed for years. I found that all of them were saying the same thing as me – we have been using AI for a while and a higher version of the same thing is what we should adapt to. That may not be ChatGPT (not one of them had a favorable experience while trying to generate something original, and neither did my Grammarly).
Write It Off Or Write With It?
Reassured, I began to post about ChatGPT – asking my social media followers to tell me what they think. And one of the comments I received was oddly enough by someone who was working their ChatGPT charm completely. Yet, they said something very logical. ChatGPT can help you improve your writing.
So, I went back to my log book and old articles (before Yoast). And there it was – a writing style I would never employ again. I would probably use it in a book, at best. But would I write sentences bereft of cause and effect, paragraphs that did not mirror what my readers were thinking, even as it reflected a possible solution? Would I create blog posts without relying on keywords and links to further what I was saying?
No, I wouldn’t.
Because of SEO, I had improved. ‘Improved.’ I had begun to write for an algorithm that organized searches and made me more discoverable. It helped me build an audience in that space. It shaped me for what the digital content world was, and what it was becoming. I had been able to apply it to help numerous clients. So, of course I wouldn’t stop writing like that. In essence, once again I had arrived at the future of writing. And the next step was now a crossroad rather than a single path. Should I stick to the future of content I had already embraced, or will ChatGPT give me that elusive scale I had been hunting for?
The Content Gap That ChatGPT Cannot Fill
If we look at other AI powered tools, we will realize that none of them are directly trying to replace an existing practice – whether it is graphic design, youtube videos, note taking, analytics or others. At best, it has created tools to help more people turn into digital product designers, which has opened up new avenues for revenue. It has created tools to transcribe and summarize videos and to create variations in video creation. SEO has also gotten an efficient upgrade, at best, with ChatGPT; one that helps in branding plus strategy in an efficient stroke. Then why should the future of content be in jeopardy?
The truth is that many businesses today are grappling with a number of challenges. How do they stand out and niche down within their industry and with all the digital chatter being made by their competitors? Here are the gaps that ChatGPT cannot fill in terms of content writing and strategy:
- Search Intent: While we have gone from keywords to search intent, how does one apply it? ChatGPT might give you the prompts and words, but how will businesses structure all of this into various pieces of content to reach the ideal customer? ChatGPT cannot identify, chart, improvise and correct this path or journey on its own. That’s where a content strategist fits in.
- Strategy + Creativity: Many growing businesses are not able to match the above need with a content strategist. And there are other businesses that often times confuse it with the broader marketing strategy. Content strategy only drives the overall marketing vehicle; it cannot become the marketing strategy. It follows the lead of the overall marketing plan and strategically churns out and places content to fuel and support its journey. Whichever category they may belong to, many businesses end up looking for a content writer without a background in strategy.
- Upskilling: In this regard, the future of content is quite clear. Upskilling and creating content that is SEO ready is the need of the hour. Content writers will need to start thinking beyond SEO and think more in terms of strategy. How to get a piece of content into a conversation on a certain platform? How to word a call to action from there? How to build brand recognition by addressing a certain need, and contributing to the creation of a new category for their client’s business? These are a few questions that will need to be answered in order to churn out effective content – one with strategy and optimization.
- Process Driven: Businesses are beginning to recognize the need for content support within their processes – from the marketing funnel to the sales pipeline. The only way to plug this gap is to look at subject matter experts who will hit the ground running in terms of editorial and content support. Each part of the process should be matched with content in the right places, right words and at the right time. Therefore, it has become more important than ever for writers to learn and implement strategy over and above SEO.
- Competition: ChatGPT does not merely level the playing field, as many are claiming. It ruins a chance to stand out and make a unique statement. It forces you to fit into a category when the future of business clearly lies in creating your own category within your industry. Authenticity is a missing ingredient required to drive customers towards a certain brand over another – how will ChatGPT help you get a competitive edge when the competition is also using the same words generated by the same AI technology? The prompts generated by ChatGPT, for example, can be used in a way that positions a business differently and uniquely. That is the work of a content writer who works with strategy.
ChatGPT might create the touch points to get people started in this direction – this includes businesses and their content creators. But finally, it is the content strategist who will drive engagement and make conversion a measurable, achievable thing.
In the Meantime
Google began to rollout new laws within its algorithms to detect and penalize websites that carried purely AI generated content. The head scratcher here was, I had been approached by recruiter for a job at Google, one where I would be rewriting AI prompts and sentences in a personalized style. I could almost see the excel sheets that would break down each paragraph into rows and columns – and ask me to rewrite them, as per personality type, buyer search language type, and more. Google is, I realized, seeking to make sense of this and stay ahead of the game at the same time.
Also, there were myriad reports and videos of KDP and Amazon Kindle accounts being terminated because AI generated books had suddenly populated the market. So, a slew of videos showing how to get around this came out. And then, the same channel began to vomit videos on how this must be avoided entirely. The ChatGPT journey was coming to a transition point. Was the bottom line really that profitable? Even if you happened to make 5 or 10K for a few days, how far would that revenue go if you lose your channel, your account or your means of publishing?
In fact, Business Insider even did a story on people who claimed to have made lots of money with ChatGPT. Yet, within the article, at the end of each case study, the disclaimer was clear: “Insider was not able to verify that amount or how it was generated.”
Suddenly, the courses on ChatGPT were less “money making tips with ChatGPT” and more “ChatGPT suite for business growth.” Even Elon Musk has joined tech leaders to support a call to pause ChatGPT development and an unleashing of its further features. In fact, in a latest still developing story, Italy has banned ChatGPT, setting a precedent for the rest of Europe.
The Future of Content – Here’s How I am Writing It
Around the same time, I appeared for some job interviews. There wasn’t a single one where I was not asked – do you by any chance use ChatGPT? The first time I was asked this, there was mild panic in my head. How do I tell them, no I do not. But to my surprise, everyone now unanimously wants a writer who does not use it. At the same time, they do not know what to ask for – everyone is scared of also missing a bus.
So, I have come to a logical stand on the matter.
Essentially, ChatGPT provides scale and hacks. But it has failed to deliver on authenticity and originality. Which is what scares many businesses. While many may be wondering if SEO is now dead, I do not believe that. Content and strategy as well as optimization have always been staunch companions – if you really want to stand out. These three things have be used in a tailor made design and dosage for every digital presence building effort. You cannot replicate or make an AI bot vomit a one size fits all model.
Here’s how the future of content and SEO can both be kept safe:
- Wider keyword choices and variations: it is after all, the era of the long tail keyword and search intent over all else!
- At the same time, it helps you niche down: because you find the content gaps that have not been addressed yet.
- Search intent over keywords: now this is a challenge for the future of content. Can you become discoverable to intent rather than an exact keyword search? I’ll have some of that please!
- Don’t forget the meta: descriptions, titles, tags, et al. This is where the ranking magnet is. And an opportunity to stand out and be unique.
- FAQs: make sure you have a page of FAQs that you regularly update. In fact, I would suggest putting these into your long, guided articles too.
- Subject matter expertise to the rescue: nothing says engaging content more than a personalized approach and thought process. And nothing says conversion like engagement.
In conclusion, technology is only going to increase. Very fast. While my advice would be to retain who you are, I would also urge you to adapt to move forward a little faster. Here’s how I envision the future of my content journey.
Editorial Teams to the Rescue
I would address this need with a vision that I have long held on to. It makes so much more sense now. You know how an IT company builds teams of people who can take care of different aspects of developing software, apps or websites? Each time would have the designer, the developer, the team lead, the troubleshooter, so on and so forth. Why can’t I do the same thing in content?
If you have been as lucky as me, to have built subject matter expertise, or at least ease of taking on various niches, this is a perfect fit. ChatGPT might promise scale, but there is no reason why you cannot scale without using it (to write), while you also empower more and more writers to join this profession and make a living out of it.
I would ideally build an editorial team of subject matter experts and train them in skills like SEO, writing, editing, research, visual designer expert and front ending or delivery. The training would be matched to the interest area of the team member. They would integrate ideas, carry out best industry practice standards, and model unique campaigns with ease due to their subject matter expertise. The team would be matched with the niche of the client’s business.
This would translate into a hands on approach – one where the front end lead is able to take this team and place their efforts, process and deliverables within the process of the business or enterprise. This includes engaging with the internal and external stakeholders of the business, when required. Imagine how much time, money and effort a startup, small business or mid market sized business would save.
The business would not need to learn the ways of content, and the editorial team would not have to learn the subject or niche of the business.
The Future of Content Is Scale – For You and Your Client’s Business
Whether it is their CRM, social media, blog, website or any other platform for brand building – the editorial team would engage with the internal and external stakeholders to support each task with the necessary content. And further, this content would be a part of a strategy and completely optimized too.
With content and within the content writing field, you can scale up your revenue without using ChatGPT to write. One can build teams where writers are rewarded for a unique story and campaigns built within their subject matter expertise, which also matches the niche industry of the client’s business. This is true growth.
It is also something that ChatGPT or AI would not be able to replace or replicate. A subject matter expert would work just as efficiently and a team that takes care of the effort would deliver with ease, albeit at a humanely possible speed. The business heads would not have to grapple with the right articulation to get the right answers from ChatGPT or look for a freelance writer whom they would have to educate first. The subject matter experts in the editorial team would simply further their message in an articulate, optimized, engaging and unique way. Branding + Content + Optimization = Niche Audience, here we come!
More than anything, newbies would learn to write, then edit, and then strategize in order to grow and become whatever the future of content needs them to be. Without compromising on the demand for original, authentic and unique content.
This is the future of content as I see it. This is how we can grow.
And that would be the correct answer to the college kid’s wide eyed question.