Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
Arthur C Clarke
It seems like artificial intelligence (AI) has been on everyone’s minds lately. It definitely has been on ours, as Tim Peter and I spoke on AI on our 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.
In a recent blog post, I wrote about the two things you can do to improve your onsite 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.
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.
I don’t use Snapchat mostly because nobody I know uses it. I’m not the target demographic, apparently. But that doesn’t keep me from talking about how much I dislike the user experience. I know that when I register such complaints I probably sound like a codger who wants his buggy whip back. But even so, I never really “got” why someone would build a platform where content is ephemeral. Isn’t the whole point of social platforms to catalog our lives? Maybe I’m missing something.
Can you imagine not caring about how you rank in Google? Maybe someday something will replace Google as what is arguably “the” most important source of top-of-funnel traffic but today much of your marketing activity is rightly focused on SEO and SEM. Having a strong Google game is critical to many companies success. But is Google your friend? I’d argue that Google as Frenemy is the proper way to look at the relationship; Google is critically important at some points but dangerous to rely upon later. Let me explain.
Total Cost of Value
Last week I was working on a proposal for a client. We understand the value we need to deliver and we’re going to bring in some external tech to deliver a complete solution. There are several options for the client to chose. What’s interesting about this part of the process is that my role has gone from seller to buyer. Any good seller looks at the deal from buyer’s perspective. But when you actually become the buyer, your vision is narrowed even further. You focus not only on what it’s going to cost but what is it going to give. It strikes me that when looking at total cost, what’s really important is understanding the total cost of value. What does it take not just to get and operate the tech, but to get the total value that can be extracted?
One of the things our clients have been asking for is automation tools that help make onsite search better. This is a great idea. For example, there’s no reason that search success metrics can’t be embedded in algorithms that A/B test improvements and automatically kick in if the testing demonstrates improvements. But automation alone isn’t the answer. Humans need to be in the loop a critical parts of the process to ensure that the automation is achieving the right goals. The greatest myth of search automation is that is eliminates the need for people to be involved.
Onsite search is one of the most critical customer experiences on your website. Onsite search is also the customer experience that likely gets little attention in your management system and at budget time. Sometimes this is because site search improvement seems like a dark art. It’s not uncommon that we see people measuring site search wrong. However, if you’re just getting started with search improvement (and many of you are, you just may not know it) there are two things you can do now to make your customer experience better.
If you close your eyes and imagine what a search engine results page looks like you probably see something that looks a lot like Google’s search results. You see a list of titles and text snippets that potentially describe the thing that you’re looking for. That’s what Google and Amazon and practically every other site has trained us to see. What few people see is a grid of tiles. This is probably a good thing as there are few use cases that tiled search results are effective.
Autocomplete, also called autosuggest or incremental search, improves the user experience by making it easier to execute searches by suggesting words and phrases that a matching algorithm determines are appropriate based upon the characters entered into a search box. Google has had autocomplete in their search box since 2008. Following in their footsteps, any company that values its customer experience has implemented autosuggestion in their onsite search. But there’s a new trend in the type-ahead game that we’ve begun to see cropping up on more and more company websites: Instant Search.