Technology has become almost an appliance for people and businesses because it’s just so much of every day life. However, when that technology does something disruptive and helps to solve a nagging issue, suddenly it truly stands out. And, there are plenty of business problems to still address, including those still rampant in the search industry in terms of the user experience.
Let’s face it. Most of us have accepted that the search process is most likely going to be awful and yield only partially relevant results. When looking for content, we usually have a single source for search and often quit when we don’t find what we are looking for quickly and easily. That’s why the search process feels a lot like a toaster that never seems to get it quite right for each person’s preferences.
That’s because relevant search is seemingly challenging to actually achieve. Since ‘relevance’ means different things to each of us, there’s a natural gap between ‘what people want’ and ‘what people get.’ Although it’s important to focus on the user experience in the search process, companies have also started to view search as a key component of their website. And, with technology like Siri or Amazon Echo where we can ask a question, there have been strides made in the right direction to deliver relevant and accurate search results.
Now, next gen marketing technology is now focused on adding the artificial intelligence (AI) component to the process to enhance search technology and the experience. Since relevance is central to improving the search experience, it makes sense to add AI to the process where machine learning has been applauded for its ability to learn and understand what a person is seeking and then deliver more relevant content.
A good way to understand how next gen technology is helping to change the search experience is to look at a case study of how the City of Wilson in North Carolina utilized Swiftype to help improve the search experience on its website for citizens and city employees.
During a recent overhaul of the website, the city’s IT Operations team abandoned their existing and unreliable search tool. In seeking a replacement, they wanted more than just a simple search plug-in. Plus, with 20 different web editors across the city adding content to the website, real-time indexing was also important. Their goal was to create a website search experience that would benefit both citizens and the city’s internal departments.
In discussing how Swiftype’s technology helped them in the days leading up to Hurricane Matthew, Will Aycock, General Manager responsible for the management and oversight of all Information Technology operations, explained, “We identified and created the content that we felt would be most valuable to our community. What we found through search analytics was that we needed to prioritize and proactively surface the content around things like road closures, evacuation routes, and even where to find sand bags. As the storm began to unfold, we saw more people searching and posting about street closures. On the fly, our Geographic Information Systems group built an app to show which streets were flooded. Seeing the search data let the city immediately respond to what was going on. That was an extremely powerful utilization of the tools.”
Another prime example of how this new technology is changing the user experience is St. Mary’s University that had previously had its own unique challenges related to the rules and regulations around how they could present information on their website. With thousands of pages, many of which were not even viewed while others couldn’t even be found, the university was seeking a way to provide a more useful experience on their website related to the search functionality.
Elaine Shannon, Web Developer and User Interface Specialist for the Office of University Communications, noted, “Swiftype analytics played a critical role by revealing content people were looking for but couldn’t find; we placed highly-searched-for content on higher-level pages and consolidated content that used to be fragmented in various departments and sections of the website. Now, most of our pages receive a respectable amount of traffic, and our top content – things like our ‘find a program’ search engine to let students search by interest and discover majors they might like – is seeing a consistently higher level of traffic because it’s much more prominent and easy to locate.”
Another example from the world of academia is Azusa Pacific University where Dustin Reynolds, the Assistant Director Digital Marketing says one of the biggest benefits of using Swiftype for them is having the ability to change things quickly, weight terms differently, and customize how we rank certain sections of our site. “This is a big deal for us because we feel like we’re providing better quality service to the user now.”
New technology is turning that toaster-level search into a search experience to convection oven level. Not only is it teaching companies and organizations how their audience uses search and works toward uncovering the content they believe is relevant to their needs, but it also provided a picture of what many realize is missing from their sites in terms of vital information their audience has been seeking. For many, the new technology has been a game changer in terms of conversions and engagement levels. It turns out search has now become as exciting as discovery.