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Do hidden robots need guiding standards too?

Even back in 1942, there were dreamers about what the days of artificial intelligence would look like. Futurists like Isaac Asimov were considering the risks of new autonomous technologies. It was during that year that Asimov wrote a short story entitled “Runaround” in which he unveiled the three laws of robotics.

The key theme for these laws was that a robot could not through action or inaction allow harm to come to humans. Over the years both philosophers and writers have examined these laws in myriad ways showing the loopholes in the language and the challenges that can arise in edge cases. Regardless, the principles seem like the sort of thing we’d want if robots walked among us. They should serve to enhance our lives.

If you’ve ever seen a video of Boston Dynamics’ robots, you understand why the three laws are needed, at least at an emotional level. Boston Dynamics makes all sorts of animal/human-like machines and they seem like something out of a science fiction movie where the robots are not benevolent servants but instead determined to be our overlords. The videos of those robots are evidence to support the need to get those laws right before Atlas walks among us.

But what about the hidden robots, the robots that exist only as lines of code buried on a web server in a cloud hosting facility and don’t look menacing? Should we also be giving thought to guiding principles of design for these engines that are fed our data and are allegedly supposed to make our user experience better?

It seems like a no-brainer. However, anyone can sign-up for their own cloud-based hosting account which likely includes a machine learning starter kit. With a little skill and the right data, a journeyman data scientist can create technology that can do things that would have seemed magical twenty years ago. In the hands of more talented operator far more extraordinary possibilities exist. So what responsibility do each of these developers have to society before they unleash their machines upon us?

I suspect that the European Union is going to lead in this space much as they did with privacy. I also suspect that the initial laws of robotics/AI are going to me more focused on disclosure than compliance with behavioral norms. But this is the sort of thing that could get out of hand, not in the Skynet manner but more in the way that Facebook struggled with privacy. The technology will be two steps ahead of our understanding of how both it, and the humans who created it, will be using it.

I’m optimistic about the possibilities for AI to have an almost magical ability to improve many aspects our lives. But like with privacy, I think we have to be looking forward to the risks that such technology to have a negative impact. We need to be intentional about ensuring that the machines are learning to work to our benefit.

SearchChat Podcast: Ring in the Year by Putting Data to Work

Analytics matter: this is the unavoidable fact of digital marketing, even for those digital marketers that fear it. But are you even measuring the right things? Do you know how to make meaningful improvements?

In this episode of our SearchChat podcast, Steve and I talk about site search, personalization, and big data. In our work in website search, we’ve seen that clicks are a measure of activity, but not necessarily an indicator that something good happened. Did the click lead to a purchase? Did the click answer to a visitor’s question?

First, a brag: Marketing Tech Outlook named SoloSegment to its top 10 marketing analytics solutions. We talk about what we’ve learned and what we now offer our customers. When I first heard about receiving the award, SoloSegment was mostly collecting data. Now, we realized what sets us apart is automating changes using that data.

Our focus for 2019 is on  putting data to work. It’s not an easy task — it means determining if your data is accurate, as well as usable to measure success. 

We discuss personalization, which every marketer wants to jump into. Not everyone is ready.  Do you have the data to identify your audience, what the right content is, and identifying whether it’s working or not?

Tune in and discover more!

00m 00s — Intro and overview

02m 00s — SoloSegment named in top 10 marketing analytics solutions

5m 20s — Why measurements like clicks fail

9m 25s — Can you use your data to power success?

15m 15s — Why your B2B content marketing isn’t ready for personalization

20m 45s — How to think about Google Discover

28m 02s — Subscription links and outro

SearchChat is available on

Check us out on FacebookTwitter, or email info@solosegment.com.

Originally posted on Biznology

Clarke had it right, AI is magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic


Arthur C Clarke

It seems like AI has been on everyone’s minds lately. It definitely has been on ours, as Tim Peter and I spoke on AI on our latest podcast. AI has been particularly hyped up, with plenty of big ideas emerging about what it can do for website owners. But I’m fearing, that like blockchain, we’re heading for Gartner’s fabled Trough of Disillusionment if we’re not there already. AI can’t solve all your business problems, though there are those that are well suited with the tools that are available today. But like any solution you have to have a valuable problem and the right approach to applying the solution.

So, how do you get started? There are three real impediments to getting AI off the ground.

  1. Unreasonable expectations
  2. Concerns about data
  3. Skills and Experience

The AI Expectation Problem

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.



Bill Gates

The Trough of Disillusionment is largely filled with folks, especially at B2B companies, who came to AI with unreasonable expectations. Like any new technology our expectations for near-term impact are always too high. There are no magical powers, there’s only hard work. So the first step in applying AI to any business problem is assessing the measurable value of the problem (make sure you have a business case) and think small.

Most “big bang” projects — large budgets, lengthy schedules, massive business cases — fail to meet expectations. With new technology the risk is even greater because not only are you proving that the project is valuable, but also that the platform can deliver.

To minimize your risk, think MVP (Minimum Viable Product) which is really just a fancy way of saying “Proof of Concept”. Identify a handful of experiments that you can run. This reduces the risk of failure — the likelihood that all the experiments fail is low — and set out goals that aren’t purely business value. For instance, teaching your dev team how to set-up a text analytics platform has a lot of value in the long run.

The AI Data Challenge

One of the intimidating challenges for AI projects is getting the data. Modeling can consume a fair amount of data but it’s not usually the volume of data that trips companies up, it’s that availability of that data. 

Many problems where AI can help requires data from across the organization. Building the connections, both technically and within the management system, with other organizations to access the data is critically important. Ideally, availing yourself of data from work that’s already being done within the company will provide you with the right access. Of course, normalizing that data to work together can still be a challenge.

The AI Barrier: Cost

One of the largest barriers to getting started is skills and expertise. Competition for data scientists is fierce and consultants who do this work can be costly. There are essentially two types of consultants that can help. Domain experts with software that focuses on one specific type of problem and custom development shops. 

Working with a software vendors can provide you with a quick start, but it often presumes that you have a problem that fits with the software that they’re selling. What we’ve seen in the marketplace is that the best packaged AI solutions are in very narrow domains. If that’s a fit for you it can be a great accelerator.

Custom development is a great option when you have a rather unique problem. The downside of this approach is that you’re often building both the platform for the application and the application itself. The timelines for this approach can be long and the cost high. 

One of the the ways we’ve found successful is to find a vendor who has both domain expertise and a good platform but not necessarily an application that meets the need. If they have application expertise in a close swimlane, they may be able to provide you with something that is specialized for your use case but not rigid like a prebuilt application. This allows you to enter with a modest investment and a solution that meets your solution needs.

It’s not magic, it’s work. Valuable Work.

When AI works, I think Clarke was right, it does seem magical. And what business can’t use a little magic? But don’t buy into the hype. Don’t be frightened by the expectations curve. Do find a valuable problem. Do run a few experiments. Do start. Build the muscle memory. Find the place where AI allows you to build a valuable customer experience.

Originally posted on Biznology

The Secret Value of Site Search

While rushing to close 2018 deals, business teams everywhere are also finalizing 2019 plans. Business cases have been calculated, lists have been prioritized and they’re getting to green light 2019 initiatives. All of these are focused on yielding the greatest return for businesses. Increasingly, site search is on the list because of the hidden value in this capability.

Among the value being found by companies are: 

  • Site searchers are 87% more likely to respond to marketing goals than non-searchers
  • Site Searchers are 43% more likely to buy — and in some cases a lot more (up to 600%) — than non-searchers
  • Effective site search retains visitors increasing SEO & SEM Yields

SearchChat Podcast: AI Goes Back to the Basics

We at SeachChat frequently talk about how AI and site search produce value for your site. But let’s break that down for a minute. What this is all about at the end of the day is customer experience.

When a prospective customer arrives on your site: are you helping them? Are you answering their question? What value might you be creating — for them, and for yourself?

Steve and I focus on some of the most important ways to fix your site search improvement program. It might not sound like the most glamorous solution, but it’s the best way to ensure you can capitalize on site search insights. Site search offers some valuable information: what can you learn about a visitor and their intent.

As I wrote recently, site search is your company’s best salesperson. When powered by AI, your site search learns about your prospective customers and can tailor results to guide them. Machine learning lets site search deliver results that drive sales. If a salesperson was performing as poorly as your site search, would you even keep them around?

00m 00s — Intro and overview

02m 20s — Site search insights on Search Engine Land

13m 00s — Site search value and site search as your best salesperson

18m 50s — Developing a strong site search improvement program

23m 16s — AI and its connection to search

32m 30s — Customer experience

33m 23s — Subscription links and outro

SearchChat is now on

Check us out on FacebookTwitter, or email info@solosegment.com.

Originally post on Biznology

SearchChat Podcast: Budget Season Survival Guide

Not enough marketers take advantage of the other kind of search — the one on your own website. Few companies budget for it, while budgeting for content without a second thought. We’ve talked about the cost of value before. But when they search, can visitors even find the content they need on your site?

Steve and I are excited to introduce a new podcast, exploring the topics we are fascinated by: AI, search, and content. Site search is part of a customer journey. When you optimize your site search with automation, visitors can find your content and continue on their journey.

Today we cover the Budget Season problems: proving why site search matters, what makes for good analytics, and how much budget you need to make your search better.

00m 00s – Intro and overview

01m 17s – Start of discussion with Steve

07m 04s – Do clicks mean success?

11m 44s – What do we mean by upstream/downstream traffic to/from search?

13m 12s – Why it matters that Google exited the site search market

14m 58s – How much budget is enough to make your site search better?

17m 27s – How can you get started on improving site search?

SearchChat is now on

Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, or email info@solosegment.com.

Warning: You’re ignoring your company’s best salesperson

Here’s a scenario for you: imagine you have an amazing salesperson who develops a deep connection with customers, beginning with their very first interaction. Even better, these prospects share their deepest concerns, telling your salesperson everything you’d want to know about how to help them — and how you can sell them what they need.

But you ignore everything this salesperson wants to share with you about what they’ve learned. You simply say, “Nah, I’m not interested in providing a better experience for these prospects. I’m not curious about their needs. I don’t care what they’ve told you.” That would be ridiculous, right? And yet, if you’re like most companies, you’re probably doing this every single day.

You may have guessed that your company’s best salesperson is, of course, your website. This brilliant salesperson who knows what matters most to your prospects and leads might still surprise you: website search. That is, the searches customers conduct directly on your site. What customers tell you in those searches will make the difference between successful enterprises and the also-rans.

It’s not your search engine, it’s you(r improvement program)

Back in April I wrote about the two things you can do to improve your site search. Those are two things among many options you have available to you as you seek to keep visitors on your website and help them achieve the task at hand. Of course, one thing you can consider is a search engine replacement. Better technology has an allure. However, it shouldn’t be the place you start.

How does your search customer experience treat your visitors?

This morning I had to log on to United Airlines’ website to request a refund for accommodations from a recent overnight flight delay. Surprisingly there is no form specifically for this type of request on the site. I struggled with a bit of cognitive dissonance on how to fit my request in the standard fields where one might complain about rude service or a poorly maintained restroom.

Needless to say, I didn’t come away from the experience with a favorable opinion of United or its process. This at a time when they should be trying to take a bad situation (my original overnight delay) and turn it into something awesome. It didn’t help that there were errors in their login process as well as an inexplicable refusal to load a 900KB JPG file that was both less than 1MB size limit and one of the approved file types.

Am I less likely to return to united.com because of this bad experience? No, I’ll be back. Fortunately for United, oligopolists can get away with poor service. Can you?

All Business On Vacation

Last week I left my family behind and took my 82 year-old father and his brother to Yellowstone National Park. This was a bucket list item for both of them and due to their declining health, it may have been our our last opportunity for such an adventure.

There are tons of details that need to be sorted out when traveling with someone who has special needs. In this case, it was two gents who have trouble walking long distances. This meant that during the air travel portion of the week, I was arranging for wheelchairs and negotiating the hotels of Yellowstone — which are preciously short on handicapped rooms and other accommodations for the elderly in lodgings — many of which were built long before ADA and not since updated.

I’m not going to go on my “We need to invest in our public spaces” rant. Suffice to say, we have these beautiful places and we make it difficult for folks to visit them in the name of preserving a quaint vision of the distant past. Upgrade, folks. Upgrade.

Being on vacation, I try to swivel my brain to things other than my day-to-day grind. Of course, that business function gets a little bored so it eventually looks for opportunity for improvement in all the processes that it encounters. So here’s my list from my current trip. It’s an age-old problem.