Maybe I'm just being grumpy because I don't like the idea of software telling me what to write, but put me down as a skeptic when it comes to the automated writing coach InboundWriter, which launched this week.
It's bad enough that Clippy is on the loose again. Now InboundWriter wants to tell me what words to use if I really want to create copy that will drive conversion, based on a combination of search and social metrics.
"Creativity without conversion equals zero," Chief Product Evangelist Rand Schulman told me during a product demo. "If the words don't convert for someone, there is no reason to do it."
"What about truth and beauty?" I want to ask--but maybe that's why I have yet to get rich online.
Actually, I've done freelance copywriting and search engine optimization work, and I've studied the "search first writing" techniques outlined in "Audience, Relevance, And Search," a book by members of the IBM.com content team. There are SEO tools like Scribe that integrate keyword research with the authoring process, somewhat like the way InboundWriter does. Scribe is available as a plug-in to Web content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, as well as through the Scribe website.
InboundWriter is a Web-based tool, and it's "inbound" in the sense of inbound marketing--that is, it's a tool for creating the marketing outreach that will drive the inbound inquiries. This content marketing concept is central to much of Web marketing, including social media marketing. One way InboundWriter is supposed to be different is in its emphasis on the social factors. Rather than just analyzing and ranking your content on the basis of search keyword popularity, InboundWriter specifically looks for mentions on popular social media sites. This approach to evaluating what people are chattering about before you add your voice to the conversation reminds me a little of what Prosodic is doing with social posts.
InboundWriter also allows you to put in the addresses of up to three competitor websites you want to be ranked against. The theory is that by figuring out what's being talked about on the Web, you can write more appealing copy that will be more likely to bring in the visitors who will convert themselves into paying customers.
TechCrunch published a blog post inviting lazy bloggers to rejoice now that Eightfold Logic, the company behind InboundWriter, has raised $2 million to develop the application. The San Francisco company also offers tools for link building and search engine management.
Eightfold Logic did a good job of rounding up quotes from interactive marketers, some of them quite prominent, about the product's revolutionary potential.
Andrew Edwards, CEO of Technology Leaders, a leading Web analytics consulting firm, said he is experimenting with the product and sees potential, but has not actually proved that it does a better job of driving conversion. "I can't vouch for the numerical results yet--I don't have them--but my feel for it is that it should be part of a writer's toolkit," he said.
Edwards is a columnist for Adotas and iMedia Connection, so he has been using InboundWriter to sharpen some of his articles for these publications. As a writer, he likes the way the tool makes suggestions but leaves him the freedom to make the call about what words to use. "It struck me as not as heavy handed as some other solutions," he said.
Fair enough, but here is why I'm still skeptical.
To test the product, I pasted in the copy from a couple of recent articles for The BrainYard, was disappointed with my initial score, and played with the tools for boosting the occurrence of popular keywords in the copy. One nice feature: You can toggle between looking mostly at search popularity, looking mostly at opportunities to target keywords with limited competition (meaning those keywords exist on fewer other sites), and taking an approach that balances the two. After some tweaking, I managed to achieve a score of a little over 50 out of 100 points using the "balanced" strategy.
Then I grabbed the copy from the inboundwriter.com home page and a couple of posts on the associated blog, and I came up with scores ranging from 6 to 36 out of 100, based on the keywords I would have picked for those pages. I'm not 100% sure that was a fair test. But let's just say it didn't make me convert.
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