Yext is moving into site search, using natural language processing to help brands answer customer questions like “How many calories are in your burger?” or “What are the features of your travel reward card?”
Tacking on site search opens up Yext’s tech to a new customer base, including direct-to-consumer and online-only brands, as well as CPGs like soup company Campbell’s, a new client.
Traditionally, decade-old Yext served bricks-and-mortar, who used Yext’s tech to manage all their locations’ listings on search engines.
Yext Chief Strategy Officer Marc Ferrentino spoke to AdExchanger about Yext’s mission at its Onward conference in New York City Tuesday – and how its data about intent could connect to digital marketing.
AdExchanger: Can this product inform a marketer’s paid media activities?
MARC FERRENTINO: In the early days, we’ve seen that looking at the most popular intents coming through the answer product can inform the media buy, and some of the intents you’re looking to purchase. It helps Google AdWords and the buying of media. That sort of customer intelligence – you can’t beat it. If you see a high population asking a certain type of question, chances are they’re asking that question on Google too.
But Yext is not creating a profile out of that intent.
We don’t unify intent with cookies. For us, it’s no customer data. And there are plenty of companies that do that well.
One idea we haven’t done yet, but has been tossed around, is that you could take a CDP [customer data platform], take those intents and combine it with another data source to fill out the view of the customer. That’s an excellent use case of bringing personalization and intent together.
Does Yext’s tech apply to the entire customer journey, not just paid media?
When customers are doing their initial research, they’ll do that discovery on Google, Facebook and other publishers. When they want to get deep answers, and specifics on the brand’s site, [this tech] helps them do everything they can to make their customer experience amazing by answering all their questions and making it easy to answer those questions and increase conversions. On the support side, we want to make it easier to find those answers, and reduce the number of clicks to find that information.
How does this product address misinformation about brands?
Just having access to information will help remove misinformation. In many cases, the misinformation is out there because the brand isn’t answering the question, like “What are the calories in a Big Mac?” A lot of brands don’t have that information out there, or not in a way that’s accessible to search engines.
The Yext CEO Howard Lerman told people today that site search essentially “sucks.” Why?
It’s based on a 20-year-old open source project called Lucene. At its core, it’s keyword search, based on the number of instances of a word on the page. We’ve built semantic search.
Google doesn’t do site search anymore. Does that mean you don’t have any competition?
There are 50 existing site search companies out there for the past 20 years. We’re just taking a completely different approach.
Physical retail is challenged. Is the “Answers” product a way to diversify away from that customer set?
We work across all location-oriented businesses – retail, healthcare, financial services. Four years ago I would say something different. Now, anyone with a website is a potential customer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.