The Path to Purchase: It All Starts With AI Search
Search engine optimization (SEO) has transformed the marketing world. More and more companies are allocating their marketing budget toward SEO practices (10 percent to 25 percent, according to a study conducted by MarketingSherpa, Magento and eBay). They’re spending even more on brand awareness, brand building and pay per click (PPC). After all, an optimized website for a well-known brand will appear higher in the search rankings, and a more visible site can lead to more customers and sales.
Getting customers to your website is just the start, though, and many consumers are bombarded with content and product listings upon arrival to a well-optimized website. There's a massive need for optimization within cluttered websites — which is where on-site search engines come into play.
On-site search is one of the best tools for people to navigate through the clutter of a dense e-commerce website. For retailers and e-commerce platforms, on-site search can help customers to more quickly and easily find just what they’re looking for. A good on-site search bar allows users to easily browse content and products within a specific website with a few simple keywords.
Forrester Research found that 43 percent of website visitors will rely on an on-site search bar to aid with product discovery, and those same users are two to three times more likely to convert. A person looking for kitchen appliances on a massive department store website, for example, can easily narrow their search with just a few simple keywords (e.g., blender, toaster, microwave, etc.).
Unfortunately, as many retailers have come to discover, it's easier said than done. Unlike corporate giants such as Google and Amazon.com, most companies don't have an army of search engineers and data scientists to manage the complexity.
Why is on-site search so hard?
- Many keywords are ambiguous: Keywords can be interpreted differently. For a search like, “red basketball shoes,” a search engine will typically need to look at each keyword to decide what’s most important — “red,” “basketball” or “shoes.” A search engine doesn't think like a person — it's powered by algorithms and word processing technologies and can often give inaccurate results.
- Misspellings: It can be difficult for on-site search to process misspelled words and synonyms, which could lead to poor results, or even a dreaded “no results” page.
- Difficulty controlling results: It's difficult to deliver accurate results even for the best search engines. Most companies have to write long lists of search rules for users to get accurate results (e.g., if someone queries “TV” only return TV sets).
To solve these challenges, many search companies now offer solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI). AI can correct some of these issues in two ways.
First, some AI uses technology called “deep learning” that goes beyond keywords to understand the meaning and context of search phrases. This will help make search incredibly accurate — even if a user types in a synonym or keyword not found on your site. (e.g., someone types in “sneakers” but you offer “shoes”).
Second, AI also knows how to improve site search results based on sales results. If products X and Y both come up after a search for “red basketball shoes,” but product Y is selling more than product X, then the search engine will know to promote product Y higher up in the search rankings.
While it may feel weird to have AI making some of these decisions, retailers will still have control. The retailer will still have the ability to merchandise the content and product listings they want to see, and even override the AI.
SEO has transformed the marketing world, and AI will pave the way to a new and improved generation of on-site search. The bottom line is that next to a retailer’s product description pages on its website, search is the single most important feature to focus on to provide a great customer experience and elevate conversions.
Retailers must pay as close attention to on-site search as they do SEO moving forward, as accurate search results will ultimately lead to improved customer experiences, which in turn will yield much better conversion rates (i.e., increased revenues) and very high levels of customer loyalty.
Joe Ayyoub is the chief revenue officer of Sajari, an AI-powered search and product discovery platform that helps e-commerce brands and retailers maximize their revenue and conversion rates through outcome focused, real-time search result optimization.
Joe brings over a decade of e-commerce and search experience to Search.io. Prior to Search.io, Joe served as chief customer officer at ZineOne. Before that, he was senior vice president of customer experience and partnerships at Unbxd and head of global support operations at Magento Commerce (acquired by Adobe). Joe holds a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from Jordan University of Science and Technology and an MBA in Finance and eBusiness from Golden Gate University.