Edward Huskin
Edward Huskin 25 February 2020
Categories Data & Analytics

How Natural Language Processing Is Changing Online Marketing

Natural Language Processing is expected to have a big impact on the world of online marketing. Some of these changes can already be seen now if you know where to look.

Language is one of the most natural things human beings can wield. For us, speaking, writing and communicating with each other is as simple as can be, but as it turns out, computers have a much harder time navigating the lawless lands of human language.

Human language is bound together by almost arbitrary rules - grammar, syntax, intonation, context and so on. These come to us ‘naturally.’ Sure, you were probably taught about each of these in school, but you don’t necessarily need to go to school to form sentences and learn new words. That’s the ‘natural’ in NLP.

And while we ourselves may have a difficult time learning new languages, computers have it much rougher. For the longest time, in fact, having computers understand any human language was impossible. That’s all changed because of Natural Language Processing.

Why should you care about Natural Language Processing?

To put it simply, there’s almost no sector or industry in the world that won’t be somehow affected by NLP, including digital marketing. But first, we need to understand that NLP isn’t a simple, singular concept that can be studied and understood in a single night.

It’s a scientific discipline that requires quite a bit of background knowledge in computer science to fully grasp. However, just the same way you don’t need a degree in software engineering to understand how a computer works, some parts of NLP are simpler to wrap our heads around than others.

Some examples of what NLP entails that you can probably spot throughout your daily life include:

Speech recognition: This is the technology behind Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and the like. It enables us to transform speech to text and text to machine language. This is the ‘processing’ part of NLP.

Optical character recognition: If you’ve ever been to an introductory computer course, the difference between ‘data’ and ‘information’ should be something you’re familiar with. Simply put, ‘data’ is ‘useless.’ It’s not been processed and not directly usable to us.

Think of a random CSV file with details about your spending for the last six months. In itself, it’s not very useful, but put it through an excel file and you’ll be able to come up with all manner of ‘information’ about yourself, eg. seasonal spending.

This is relevant because the process of converting data to information, while often simple, isn’t always easy to reverse. This way, presented with ‘information,’ computers can’t simply turn it into raw data. Given a picture of text, computers can’t just ‘simply’ turn it into words that can be edited. It’s possible thanks to OCR (which uses NLP under the hood), but it’s quite a process.

Machine learning: Another beast on its own, machine learning, enables computers to ‘learn’ from past mistakes and predict future actions.

Natural language generation: This is the reverse of what you now know to be NLP. Natural Language Generation is the conversion of machine data to human-readable text. Think of Siri or Alexa, for instance.

Sentiment analysis: Words can change meaning depending on how they are said - with which emotion, for example. Sentiment analysis deals with being able to tell whether a piece of text is positive or negative.

Coming together, NLP might then run behind the scenes in a spell-checking app, a chatbot, or a machine translation tool like Google Translate.

How will NLP change online marketing?

Natural Language Processing is expected to have a big impact on the world of online marketing. Some of these changes can already be seen now if you know where to look.

Chatbots are gaining more prominence

Chatbots are pretty mundane pieces of technology by this time. Sure, they started off as a novel piece of tech, but they are now everywhere. What you might miss if you’re of that opinion is that chatbots are getting better. You likely won’t see an end to chatbots until the day we are unable to tell them apart from fellow human beings - and that time might is getting closer and closer. 

Consider, for instance, GPT-2, a text generation AI deemed ‘too dangerous’ to be released into the wild. This can create incredibly convincing stories, only using a single line of text as input. Once fine-grained, the potential might be limitless.

Voice search is becoming more dominant

Voice search isn’t very old - at least not in the simple and usable form we know it for today - but it’s growing very fast. So fast that voice shopping is expected to exceed $40 billion across the US and UK by 2022. And with 55% of teens using voice search on a daily basis, there is even greater potential for growth than we might immediately realize.

Social media will empower brands with new tools

Social listening is one of the most mainstream features enabled by NLP. This is the use of sentiment analysis to monitor the overall ‘sentiment’ that your customers have about your brand. This might then trigger alerts or present the PR team with the public’s general feelings about a brand after a certain marketing campaign.

The perfect example of Natural Language Processing taking over the marketing world is the fashion brand Asos. The brand had been relying on a traditional ‘boring’ gift bot for most of its existence, and the results were rather underwhelming. After migrating their platform to Facebook Messenger (which uses NLP under the hood), not only were they able to reach 3x the number of people, they also experienced a 250% return on spend.

Email marketing will be more effective

Even with all the fancy social media tools we have at hand today, email remains the most efficient tool in our belts today. Email marketing returns $42 on average for every $1 spent, and with NLP, that ROI is only going to shoot further up. Natural language processing can be used to measure things like:

  • How often users respond to certain keywords
  • Which headlines work better for which users 
  • Which content attracts new users, and more.

In other words, NLP will be as useful for attracting new users as it will be for converting them into paying customers.


Natural Language Processing is an incredibly wide field with a lot of new revolutionary methods and applications waiting to be discovered. With its continual popularity, it’s going to affect different aspects of digital marketing - from the prominence of voice search to making traditional search more efficient and accurate. By leveraging it now, companies are bound to find themselves in a good position to have a competitive advantage.

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