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I Rewrote 58 Newsletter Titles with AI, Here’s What I Learnt
And guess whether this title was written by the AI or not (answer at the end!)
Hey folks! 👋🏽 Kavir here. Welcome back to another edition of The Discourse.
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The AI space is heating up particularly with generative AI art like DALL-E, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and several applications built on top of them like InteriorAI (Interior Design) and AvatarAI (Professional Avatars). Along with this increase in interest, there’s been a resurgence of text-based generative AI.
When GPT3 from OpenAI first came out, we got the first wave of AI applications like Copy.ai and others. Now we’re seeing different applications come to the surface. With that in mind, I just got access to Lex, an AI writing tool powered by GPT3 created by Every (a newsletter publication collective).
This seemed to be the first AI tool to be built for me — a newsletter writer — whereas earlier options were catering towards copywriters and social media managers
Lex has two main features currently. You can generate paragraphs of text — by supplying a prompt, an outline, or bullet points — or you can use the AI to create title options. While I’ve used both features, I was curious to evaluate the Title rewriting feature, and so I did.
I used Lex to provide alternative suggestions to the 58 published editions of The Discourse and here’s what I learnt:
Why titles matter
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at writing catchy titles. tend to go for subtlety with my titles, but a title needs to be anything but. It needs to grab readers and pull them in.
Veritasium has this great video in which he introduces the concept of Legitbait as a credible alternative to the word clickbait. He goes on to define clickbait as content that doesn’t live up to the title.
Content that follows up a catchy title with real substance is legitbait.
In a world where YouTube videos have outrageous titles and thumbnails, Twitter threads have formulaic hooks – all in a war for our attention — you have to play the game or you will end up creating content for a tiny subsection of your audience.
What was lacking in my previous titles
After playing around with Lex for rewriting the titles, I realized there was a common theme.
My titles were short
The average title length for past issues of The Discourse was 32 characters. I think I leaned on shorter titles, because I subconsciously thought that it would look better in the email subject.
They weren't descriptive enough
I noticed that my titles didn’t actually describe what the edition was about. They were very subtle. For example, for an article about the meditation app landscape, I came up with this title: Take a deep breath. It could generate curiosity, but in most cases, it might not draw the reader in because it was a bit vague.
I was more descriptive in the subtitle, but I think the order needs to be reversed.
Titles work differently for blogs vs. newsletters
Titles matter much more for blogs, because SEO is highly weighted towards titles and then a combination of the URL, meta description, and the actual content.
But what matters for newsletters is the combination of Title + Subtitle. Because in an email, you get both the subject and the snippet.
On a mobile device, subject and description can only be 40-70 characters together, depending on whether your reader is using Apple Mail or Gmail (the two most popular email apps for mobile devices).
So with that in mind, how did the AI fare?
(Drumroll please) 🥁
Rewrites by the AI
This was just a sample, the full list is here.
Which ones do you like best? Let me know in the comments.
You can probably spot a trend here — the AI-generated titles have the right keywords and are more descriptive. However, there are a few downsides that show up when you use this enough times.
Reuse of common words
AI tends to reuse common words in titles such as:
Power, Advantage, Benefits, Importance, Matters
How to, Why
Presumably because the training data was trained on many SEO-focused blog articles.
The titles are substantially longer than the ones that I wrote (53 characters vs 32 characters). While this would be a good thing for blog articles, it’s not so great for newsletters. Like we discussed earlier, a title this long might not fit in an email client on mobile.
These titles would do much better for SEO blog posts than for newsletters. They also look more SEO’d. That’s not a ding on Lex, just a nature of the dataset of GPT3.
Here were the results of the rewriting process. In effect, I ended up modifying 69% of the titles after generating them with AI. Sometimes I used the exact phrasing the AI gave me, and in some I modified them slightly.
The 30% of titles that I retained were closer to my heart. Titles like “Speed as a Feature” or “Whiteboarding in a Remote World”.
Some of the AI rewrites were significantly more descriptive than what I wrote. Taking a few examples: Take a deep breath is ambiguous whereas Business of Meditation Apps is a dramatic improvement. Similarly Secret to Musically's success is better than Product Growth Lessons from Musically.
And finally, when it comes to this article, the AI generated the following titles:
The Benefits of Using AI to Generate Titles for Your Newsletter
How AI Can Help You Write Better Titles for Your Newsletter
Why You Should Use AI to Generate Titles for Your Newsletter
How AI Generated Titles Can Help Your Newsletter Stand Out
The Advantages of Using AI to Generate Titles for Your Newsletter
Clearly, I didn't use any of these. but these were pretty good by themselves.
So what did I learn? You won’t always use the titles the AI suggests, but since it creates multiple alternatives to choose from — you can take the best pick or the options might spark some totally different variation.
I know that I plan to use this tool to create title options for each edition.
I don’t need to blindly go with what the AI gives me, but I know that’s a good starting point to work from.
Shout out of the week 📢
Thanks to Dhrumi Savla, Russell Smith, Danver Chandler, and Nicholas Bouchard for providing feedback on early drafts of this piece.
That's it for today, thanks for reading!
What do you think about AI Writing Tools? Reply or comment below, and I'll reply to you. Give feedback and vote on the next topic here.
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