Archive for month: August, 2013

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Why Keyword Search is Dead (And You Should Be Worried)

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It wasn’t all that long ago that most eCommerce sites had a small box inconspicuously located somewhere on the home page, usually with the cryptic instructions, “Enter Keyword.” It was what search boxes looked like and it was designed around the fact that most search technology was pretty crude. It could search for a specific keyword on a site. If it found that word, it would deliver results. If it did not locate that one word – too bad, no results.

Those days are gone forever. And if you’re still living in that antiquated time, you should be concerned that you are losing sales and conversion by not delivering the kind of search experience today’s consumer has been trained to expect.

This seismic shift in search technology all started with the two search giants, Google and Bing. Bing, which was unveiled in 2009, was the first serious competitor to Google to use semantic search technology. Semantic, or natural language search, uses artificial intelligence to understand the meaning and intent of the search query instead of just looking for keywords.

Google, which had no such capability, began to take a little heat for using what was clearly an inferior technology, and pretty quickly stepped up. In fact, by the fourth quarter of 2009 Google CEO Eric Schmidt made the statement, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Google understood the meaning of your phrase, rather than just the words that are in the phrase? We have [done] a lot of discoveries in that area that are going to roll out [soon].” Which of course they did, and have continued to do.

Apple’s Siri set the bar even higher, and now natural language search is an integral component of any first class search technology. Which means your customers are using it every day. But when they come to your website are they being thrown back into the past?

The bottom line is that shoppers and other search engine users no longer expect to enter simple keywords. They may enter whole phrases or descriptive content that reveals their specific search intent, and they expect results and relevance.

Today, the online shopper on an eCommerce site has been conditioned to expect the same experience they have become accustomed to in their everyday online search on Google or Bing. EasyAsk’s natural language search technology brings your search function into the 21st century with a complete set of activities that get to the heart of what your customer is looking for, including:

  • Term stemming: Understanding variations on words such a plurals, tenses, hyphenated terms and more
  • Semantic processing: Bridging the gap between text and meaning by relating words and their synonyms to their core concepts, and
  • Attribute awareness: Recognizing attributes such as “yellow” in terms such as “yellow garden statue” and knowing how to relate them to the search.

When it comes to search, your customers have been driving shiny new sports cars on Google and Bing for the past few years. So don’t make them drive a horse and buggy when they come to your site.

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Why “Learning Search” Gets A Failing Grade

Learning Search Gets A Failing GradeIn a previous blog, we discussed the concept of “Learning Search” and what the technology can and can’t do. In this installment, we’d like to look a little closer into how it can be used to better effect when incorporated into a system which takes other factors into account as well.

The problem with most search technology which employs learning search is that it is used as the primary sort for delivering search results. The technology simply measures what products matching the search description are clicked on the most and then delivers those products first in the search results. The search results therefore become both a popularity poll and a self-fulfilling prophecy.  (The products that are clicked most get pushed to the top of the page – and the items at the top of a page get clicked most.) And the search function is “learning” only insofar as it is updating its tally of the number of clicks a product is receiving.

Furthermore, when implemented through a sub domain, this activity is taking place away from the retailer’s eCommerce site, degrading SEO in the process.

Learning search can be helpful, however, when taken as part of a larger, more holistic approach to delivering search results. This is where EasyAsk’s approach and technology come in. EasyAsk takes a multifaceted approach to delivering the most accurate, relevant results to a site search inquiry. First and foremost, the cornerstone of EasyAsk’s technology is natural language search software.

By using natural language search, EasyAsk finds the most relevant results because it understands the meaning and intent of the search term – even complex, long-tail search queries. From that point, the delivery and display of the search results can be refined by a formula which takes many factors – including popularity and click-through rate, if desired – into account. This customizable formula, created collaboratively by the retailer and EasyAsk staff, can factor in many variables, including inventory levels, profit margin and sales trends, among others.

The results meet both the customer’s and the merchandiser’s needs and can be adapted on the fly to meet changing market and inventory conditions.  Plus the search and display results are delivered on the etailer’s site, not on a sub-domain page.

EasyAsk eCommerce Edition leads with language relevance and can further sort products in a self-tuning system that takes not only click-through popularity, but also newness, margin, stock level, sales popularity and any other metrics a site owner may decide to include. It’s just a smarter way to go.

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How EasyAsk Enhances Magento

puzzle pieces 1Magento is an eCommerce giant, with products to help retailers build and deploy eCommerce sites as well as manage online operations. It’s one of the most popular eCommerce platforms on the planet, and for good reason.

Even with great products and support, Magento knows there are areas where integrated third party solutions can add significant value. They partner with select, vetted firms to provide customers with additional options and expertise to help users maximize their investment in the Magento platform.

EasyAsk provides site search, navigation and merchandising solutions that integrate seamlessly with Magento. Using natural language search technology, EasyAsk has helped scores of Magento users, like Anna’s Linens and Zenni Optical, increase conversion rates, improve customer experience and implement agile merchandising tactics.

Magento comes with good, but basic, keyword search, category navigation and merchandising functionality. If you’re a small business, or just starting out, it may initially be enough. As your site grows in terms of product offerings and visitors, however, problems can ensue.

If your site search can’t handle an expanding product catalog with numerous attributes and growing traffic volumes, your customer experience will suffer. Most importantly, your conversion rate will decline, and with it sales and profits.

An upgrade to EasyAsk allows retailers to expand their site and offerings without experiencing growing pains or customer frustration. A few key highlights:

  • Highly Descriptive Search. The more visitors you have, the more diverse ways your customers will look for items. EasyAsk gives shoppers the ability to enter detailed descriptions into the search box, and deliver highly-tuned, relevant results.
  • Faceted Navigation. As your product offerings grow, navigational attributes become more varied. And as shoppers increase, they want to navigate the site different ways. EasyAsk enables highly granular, dynamic navigation attributes to allow customers to easily find what they seek.
  • Agile Merchandising. EasyAsk gives you insight into shopper behavior, and the ability to rapidly adjust merchandising via banner ads, promotions and cross-sells – with no need for IT involvement.
  • Manageability. Clear reporting, actionable analytics and automated services such as spell-correction, stemming and relaxation make managing even the largest product catalog manageable.

A Note on Solr:

Magento does offer a search and navigation “upgrade” based on the open source offering Solr. Although Solr does give some increased functionality over the basic Magento search product, it has a number of limitations.

  • Many users find its administration via HTML interfaces laborious, especially when search terms need to be added.
  • Lack of support for spell-correction and stemming forces admins to enter all possible variations of a word  into the system manually
  • Rules for navigation, sorting or merchandising are defined in SQL, require IT support for any change
  • Solr lacks the ability to understand and process long-tail search terms

EasyAsk eliminates these hurdles and allows you to grow the shopping experience along with the rest of your site. EasyAsk offers both on-premise and SaaS versions that seamlessly integrate with your Magento site to maintain great SEO and easy product data integration.

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There is More to Learning Search than Product Popularity

images (1)More people in the eCommerce world are becoming familiar with the tantalizing idea of “learning search.” Learning search promises to increase conversions by delivering results based on data “learned” over time. The sales pitch is that the technology works like a human brain – constantly watching, learning and improving. Sounds interesting, but does it deliver on this intriguing premise?

According to EasyAsk product experts, that answer is more “no” than “yes.” The first major hurdle is in understanding what “learning search” really does.  Despite “learning” in the name, the search function is not learning and adapting based on the visitor’s past choices and behavior – which is a common misconception.  It’s just pushing the most popular items to the top of the search.

At its essence, learning search is basically a popularity poll, ranking the most asked-for and clicked-on items at the top of the search results, regardless of nuance or relevancy to an individual searcher’s parameters. It’s really nothing more or less than an aggregator, putting the items purchased the most at the top of the search results, regardless of whether they are really what the customer is looking for.

Let’s say a customer is looking for a cold-weather winter coat. Using EasyAsk, a shopper could put in those exact search term, or any variation, such as “warm winter coat.” EasyAsk’s natural language technology actually understands the meaning of the words, and deduces the intent behind them. The learning search software will not understand any of these qualifiers to “coat” unless they part of the catalog product description, and instead simply deliver the most popular results for the word “coat.” If that happens to be a rain coat or other lighter outerwear, the results will clearly not be relevant to what the searcher is looking for.

Another issue with learning search is that is does not understand or account for typos or misspellings. If, for example, I hurriedly typed in “coal” instead of “coat” I would not get the results I was looking for. I would probably not get any results at all, unless the retailer surprisingly also sold coal in addition to coats.

If names of products are not English words, that can also be a serious issue.

SEO is another problematic area for so-called “learning search.” A fundamental flaw with most platforms which use this technology is the use of what are called sub-domains. This takes the visitor off of your website, degrading your SEO. For example, if I visit the mythical site www.store.com and enter in a search term, I will be directed to a subdomain, such as search.store.com.  If I click on a product, I would then be routed back to the website, but this is not what you invested all that money, sweat and tears on SEO for. There are some exceptions to this rule of thumb, but they are generally costly to implement.

So despite the name, there are smarter technologies out there than learning search, including natural language search.

 

Ready to see how EasyAsk's eCommerce solution can help you? Request a demo!