Visual search is a great marketing tool that helps consumers find what they’re looking for faster. Rather than trying to describe a specific item in words, they can simply snap a quick photo and upload it to find a close visual match.
Brands like Pinterest and Google have already implemented visual search functionalities, and other companies are starting to follow suit. If you haven’t yet incorporated this useful feature into your user experience design, now is the time to start looking into it.
To help you, we asked a panel of Ad Age Collective members what companies should know about the impact of visual search on marketing. Their best answers are below.
1. Metadata still matters in visual search.
With nearly 25% of all internet searches occurring on Google Images, this is the second largest search category. Creating high-ranking metadata is an important SEO strategy to show up and index on the front page. Also, XML images are powerful for creating sitemaps. This step ensures that crawlers can easily access your images and show them in search results. – Warren Jolly, adQuadrant
2. You can maximize your reach with a multi-site visual content strategy.
Search engines pull image results from multiple sources. Brands can maximize the potential for their product images to top the search results by building out visual content on other websites. Strong visual content strategies on Pinterest, Amazon and specialist sites like Houzz can drive more eyes on your products and ultimately increase sales. – Kerry Curran, Catalyst
3. It will take time to gain traction, but you should start preparing now.
It’s tempting with new trends to go all-in without addressing the current business climate. For brands that are used to investing in SEO to gain visibility, this shouldn’t stop with the advent of visual search, as it will take time to gain traction. Regardless, carve out a portion of your SEO budget to dedicate to visual assets and you’ll be ready for the arrival of mass adoption of visual search. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap
4. Your images should give consumers a reason to click through.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Make the image of your product quickly stand out and be visually appealing. Show the features and benefits of the product as they would appear as part of the consumer’s life to give them a reason to click through and learn more. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
5. Don’t wait to get started.
As mobile usage grows, mobile-friendly features like the vertical-video content format and visual search will become the norm. AI is developing rapidly and making it easier to carry out visual search accurately. Businesses need to get their foot in the door fast and build their audience from the outset of this new trend. It will be a lot harder to compete and stand out later. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
The use of artificial intelligence in marketing and advertising has been constantly on the rise due to the technology’s versatility in connecting brands with customers. AI has already found its way into several areas of the industry, most notably in the form of AI-based chatbots designed to enhance and optimize customer service.
However, AI can go so much deeper in improving the overall user experience that a customer may have. AI has the potential to do a lot more in terms of data processing to garner insights for a business. Focusing on the metrics that are specific to a business is just the surface layer. User interaction data can also provide a significant store of data that the company can use to improve customer experience. An element like a product recommendation service based on what the user has searched for and viewed previously is an excellent way to leverage AI to improve consumer interaction with the brand.
These leaders from Ad Age Collective understand the immense potential that AI can provide to the industry as a whole. We asked them to help us understand how a brand can best include AI in designing and upgrading its user experience. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Create a system of checks and balances.
There are plenty of applications of AI across all areas of advertising and marketing. Whether you’re building your own AI or using a technology provider, it’s important to ensure that there are checks and balances and a discernible ROI created. That requires checking that the algorithms are working optimally, mitigating biases and surfacing the most impactful recommendations on an ongoing basis. – Ricky Ray Butler, Branded Entertainment Network
2. Identify your visual brand equity.
As AI-driven user experience becomes the norm, a brand’s differentiated visual equity will be critical to stand out in multibrand platforms. Brands must identify visual elements that are relevant and ownable. For instance, Target owns the bull’s-eye. What else can they own? – Arjun Sen, ZenMango
3. Focus on audio.
Most of the brands have largely been neglecting their audio dimension. Developers and marketers focus mainly on visual and haptics to a lesser extent, while the sound is the sense dimension that connects emotionally. – Marcello Magalhaes, Speakeasy – Knowledge Brokers
4. Use AI to enhance personalization.
AI can be used to enhance the personalization of your offering. Use it to alter product options, add-ons and benefits in real time while a consumer is online searching for your brand in order to directly benefit their lifestyle. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
5. Use AI to manage out-of-stocks.
Some progressive retailers like Wakefern and Kroeger are using AI-powered image recognition to identify out-of-stock issues and to efficiently restock the shelves. Some brand owners like AB InBev, especially those with direct store delivery (DSD), are also doing the same. Collaborate with your retail channel partners to capture and act on this data. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)
6. Keep a close eye on it.
While AI is powerful and can help carry out activities easily and fast, it’s not 100 percent reliable. Remember Microsoft’s “Tay” Twitter bot that went from having engaging interactions to using slurs? Use AI in creating content and better experiences, but keep a close eye on it. AI is literal and does not take context into account, nor can it make moral judgments. You need to constantly monitor it. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
7. Be cognizant of inherent bias.
AI is incredibly efficient and underpins many popular systems we use today. One only has to investigate the world of streaming services, with content recommendations powered by AI, to see its impact. However, brands need to remember to not be blinded by AI’s abilities and to be cognizant of inherent biases that exist within AI systems. AI is only as good as its creator — and that creator is human. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap
Technology has enhanced the customer experience quite a bit, with many companies employing the use of artificial intelligence agents for customer service roles. However, despite embracing technology for their customer service needs, many businesses are not fully using tech to improve the way customers engage online.
Modern business centers on customer-website interaction. Customers want to feel as though they are welcome to your website and that their business matters to you. The customization and personalization of a site to suit a customer’s needs makes them feel valued. As marketers know, customers that feel valued provide repeat business. If you want to retain these customers successfully, your website must put user experience first.
Luckily, these eight entrepreneurs from Ad Age Collective know what it takes to create a successful user experience. User experience (also known as UX) and UX design have become key to how companies interact with their target demographic. Below, these experts share their best advice for companies looking to leverage tech to improve their website’s UX and build strong customer loyalty.
1. Design your website around your why.
A website is a purposeful entry point for information and action. Understanding why you need a website is essential to delivering on your promise. Once you prioritize needs by the target groups visiting the site, only then can tech play a big role in making the visitor’s journey faster and distraction-free, helping them to get to their desired goals. Tech also plays a big role for repeat visitors and repeat tasks. – Arjun Sen, ZenMango
2. Keep content relevant to customer needs.
When a customer lands on your website, use tech algorithms to have them land on content and images that they were initially searching for. That way, it is immediately relevant to their needs and the best possible brand experience. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
3. Focus on personalization.
Your on-site experience should not be the same for everyone who shows up. Many software vendors will enable you to customize your site based on where visitors are arriving from, whether or not they’ve been to your site before, what visitors did the last time they were on your site, whether or not they are existing customers, etc. You can even test different versions of your site simultaneously. – Dan Beltramo, Onclusive (formerly AirPR)
4. Leverage artificial intelligence tools.
As traditional marketing tactics have become less effective, sales and marketing teams are adopting new AI-powered tools to deliver a superior customer experience. By identifying which accounts are visiting your site and uncovering critical insights about them, AI allows you to deliver relevant messages with chatbots or custom content streams based on what’s actually important to every visitor. – Latane Conant, 6sense
5. Use chatbots to answer simple queries.
Very often, people visit websites to get simple questions answered. Adding chatbots to your site can help visitors by giving them the right information almost instantly. This is especially helpful where they need information that can be extracted from a database. You enhance the customer experience by providing customers with accurate information fast. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
6. Don’t take advantage of your customer’s time.
If they visit your website, don’t first make them put in an email for your newsletter or close a pop-up. If you ask for their feedback on their experience or Net Promoter Score, follow up with what you’ll do to make it better for them. Data is currency, and consumers increasingly know that. Give them something of value in return for their attention and information, be it more personalization or fixing a problem. – Holly Fearing, Filene Research Institute
7. Ensure two-way communication.
Any tech that you utilize on your website needs to facilitate two-way communication with a customer. Whether using AI, customer feedback or the ability to aggregate customer data, at the heart of your learning and your communication has to be an authentic human connection. When a customer engages with you on your website, this needs to be front and center. – Rich Honiball, Navy Exchange Service Command
8. Pre-fill customer data.
Forms are the bane of anyone’s existence. The constant drudgery of having to repeatedly fill out forms creates friction and a bad customer experience. Instead, pre-fill information where possible (accompanied by a “welcome back” message) and only ask for information that is absolutely essential. The less burden you place on your customer, the more they will appreciate you making their life easier. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap
Your company’s website is the ultimate marketing tool. It’s often the first point of contact for a potential customer, and it can significantly affect how they view your brand. An outdated or inaccurate site can quickly turn off users, while an engaging and informative one can increase consumer trust and interest—and help you make the sale.
As a business owner, you need to prioritize your Web presence and make sure it’s working for you as a marketing tool. Below, 14 members of Forbes Agency Council outline some best practices for managing your company’s website.
1. Think Mobile First
We live in a world where two-thirds of the population now have a mobile phone. Everybody uses their devices on a daily basis. This is why it is mandatory to have a website that is accessible on mobile screens, with an engaging user experience, up-to-date content and clear calls to action. – Daniela Pavan, The Ad Store New York
2. Review Quarterly And Improve As Needed
It is important to set up a time to follow up on the website and to review it on a quarterly basis. That means that it is important to ensure that there are many ways to review the success or the failure of the current structure. When you are able to do that, you will see that there are many ways to improve the overall reach out as well as the communication for the people. – Jon James, Ignited Results
3. Assign A ‘Brand Keeper’ To Audit The Site
The auditing process doesn’t have to be painful. Simply read through the website, ideally looking at it with the fresh eyes of a first-time visitor. To make it easier, assign someone to be the “keeper of the brand” and make it part of their job to do this at regular intervals. It’s also a good idea to ask brand-new employees for their opinions, as they’re best able to pinpoint anything confusing. – Sarah Mannone, Trekk
4. Build On A Platform That’s Easy To Update, And Automate Where Possible
Today’s landscape changes very quickly. If your website is doing its job, at a minimum, it’s able to keep up. That means your site should be “living and breathing” and built on a platform that’s easy to update, change or modify swiftly and effectively. After that, you should work it! Bonus points for site features that can automatically update as you populate content, such as a social feed. – Sara Helmy, Tribu
5. Publish Fresh New Content
If the site is up-to-date with the content management system (e.g., WordPress), content is the next most important aspect of any website. Whether it’s in the form of an informative blog post or additional content on the service pages, Google loves in-depth, helpful content. We start with a site audit and prioritize pages by traffic or conversions, then work our way down, finding content opportunities for each page. – Matt Bowman, Thrive Internet Marketing Agency
6. Don’t Forget To Refresh Core Content
The two tactics we’ve used to keep our website up to date are ongoing weekly blog articles and assigning website accountability. Ongoing blogging ensures there is always timely, relevant content being added to the site and shared to social channels. We’ve also found it useful to assign accountability for the site to one team member, ensuring all core content is refreshed and kept up to date. – Elissa Liu, Influential Executive
7. Always Consult The Analytics
Using Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you can gauge how well your website is performing organically across a number of key performance indicators, including traffic, click-through rate, bounce, etc. Using this data, we can update on-page elements, such as meta data, suggested links, body content, etc. to increase the usability of our website and on-site metrics that contribute to greater conversions. – Kristopher Jones, LSEO.com
8. Ask Customers What Part Of Your Website Made Them Contact You
That’s one of my first questions for every prospect who says, “I found you on the internet.” Answers help update, reprioritize or emphasize areas that need message adjustment or tweaking. We advise all our clients to track how they were found and what helps convert a sale. – Patrick Nycz, NewPoint Marketing
9. Develop In Real Time
By the time you’ve updated your website, the next version will likely need to begin development. Develop on a platform that is easy to program so you can make quick changes and optimizations based on real-time data analytics while you are looking for the next iteration. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, HAWTHORNE LLC
10. Make Website Maintenance Part Of Your Daily Marketing Activities
It may seem obvious, but the most common reason websites fall behind is that updates and maintenance are not a core part of day-to-day marketing operations. Once a website overhaul or build is complete, the project is not over, and it should not fall to the wayside. Include your website as a key part of your annual marketing plan and build a calendar of regular updates. – Keri Witman, Cleriti
11. Get A Cross-Functional Team Involved
The website is not a standalone asset. It is a marketing tool. Integrate website updates into go-to-market plans so the site constantly reflects company evolution and growth. Include the cross-functional team in discussions on blog post themes, product page updates, etc. to keep content current and reflective of company values. – Preethy Vaidyanathan, Tapad
12. Follow Best Search Engine Optimization Practices
Your website is not a useful lead generation tool if no one can find it. Make it keyword-driven for the words you want to rank for, and continually release fresh content to be ranked by search engines. For example, be sure your Title tags and H1 tags are worded properly. This helps search engines determine what each page is about and enables them to rank it accordingly. – Bryan Citrin, Chiropractic Advertising
13. Introduce The World To Your Brand And Team
It’s essential for companies to make sure the website reflects the brand and culture. Our website is currently being revamped. We’ve ensured our site exemplifies our uniqueness by highlighting our team members and the work we’ve produced for our clients while capturing the nuances specific to our brand. Websites are often a client’s first introduction to who you are. Put your best foot forward. – Sarah Tourville, Media Frenzy Global
14. Ask For Help
It’s very easy for companies to put off working on their websites because, though the task is important, it doesn’t always feel urgent. Working with a marketing agency will put a healthy amount of pressure on your company, open up new ideas because of input from outsiders, and help you generate more traffic to your website instead of just making sure it’s accurate. – Joe Ardeeser, Jordan Crown LLC
Today’s marketing landscape is broader, deeper and more complex than ever before. There are more channels, more choices and more customers who get more savvy every day. Thriving in this “omnichannel marketing” playground is a balancing act. Companies have to continuously evaluate and strengthen customer touchpoints while delivering a consistent and seamless experience across all channels.
It’s no easy task. My advice? Put the customer at the center, enact a prudent and adaptable plan that focuses on delivering consistency, measure constantly and be willing to take some risks. To that end, here are my top tips for effective omnichannel marketing:
START WITH THE CUSTOMER
Every customer wants to feel like your best customer, and the only way to deliver this is to put your customer at the center of your omnichannel approach. Whether calling in, walking in, shopping online or interacting any way, they expect a personal, seamless and pleasurable experience. Fine-tune all your customer touchpoints so they deliver on this, including social media and mobile sites. And remember, it isn’t just the purchasing experience that matters. Customers expect to be able to research product options (i.e., read product reviews on smartphones while standing in the retail store aisle), access coupons via text or a website, or even contact customer support using Facebook or Twitter. Bottom line: The customer is king — or queen — and every interaction with them matters.
UNIFY THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
In theory, it sounds simple. But maintaining consistency across various marketing channels is an ongoing challenge. The first step is to take a holistic look at all your marketing, advertising, sales and even product return activities. Then, examine each to make sure they are delivering a personalized experience that’s also uniform. That may mean focusing less on individual channel performance correlated to revenue goals or other specific measurements. You may also have to restructure processes and even your organization to eliminate silos and encourage cohesiveness.
Make sure to provide a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device. The optimization of cross-screen attribution methodologies allows a marketer to fine-tune creative content advertising by channel and device, as well as identify attribution insights driving media optimization for e-commerce and drive to retail campaigns.
ADOPT INTEGRATED STRATEGIES ACROSS ADVERTISING
Adopting cohesive and well-connected strategies across various advertising channels can lead to greater success. That means integration among digital (online and mobile) and search-engine marketing, television, over-the-top (OTT) content, video on demand, print, radio and display ads. Be sure to leverage multivariate testing — a technique for testing a hypothesis in which multiple variables are modified to determine landing page conversions, display ad effectiveness and other important measurements. And take time to review the ways consumers interact with your brand across all platforms. You’ll be able to draw fresh insights into their buying preferences, engagement times and transaction history.
CONTINUOUSLY TRACK, MEASURE AND OPTIMIZE
Collect data and learn how to effectively analyze and use it. It’s not just about having all the numbers and statistics at your fingertips. You can use the data to predict where the consumer is going to be, how they will be buying and how you can reach them in that setting — and at the right time. Use the data to stay ahead of the curve and to not only execute on a one-time basis, but also to duplicate the data in a way that allows you to repeat the successes and avoid mistakes.
I recommend using multi-touch attribution, mixed-media modeling and ingestion of first-party customer data that’s layered with second- and third-party data to provide a 360-degree analytic view, which will connect brands with customers to gain deeper insights. We’ve learned at Hawthorne, through experience, that custom-built analytics tools and methodologies utilizing real-time customer data gives companies insights to optimize marketing strategies.
TEST, LEARN, TEST AND REPEAT
There is no magic formula for omnichannel marketing. In fact, this is one of the most common mistakes companies make as they embark on their own omnichannel strategy. Instead, be prepared to put in time, patience and perseverance to discover the right formulas and implement them. And remember, digital media isn’t a panacea. Sure, you can achieve some quick results with digital media. But there’s no guarantee it will deliver the customer response you’re looking for. Nor does it always help customers find your products or services.
It takes constant tracking, measuring and optimizing. Track the consumer path to conversion across all screens and devices used by the target demographic, from TV to desktop and mobile. Measure the fractional response and weighted conversions that each media channel is individually driving, from linear TV to streaming and pre-roll video. Optimize the media allocation between media platforms to maximize reach, consumer response and ROI per advertising dollar on a weekly basis.
The days of “set it and forget it” media planning are gone. Data are always moving, and weekly optimization is key so use real-time data.
TAKE SOME RISKS
Be on the lookout for — and open to — emerging trends. For example, begin investigating the effectiveness of voice search, especially with the growth of smart speaker sales in the past year. Voice search has a lot of potential in microtargeting a local market. However, technology is still being developed to better optimize search results and the individual will need to learn how to succinctly communicate with the audio device to get relevant results.
By integrating these essential practices into your marketing strategy, you’ll be in a great position to realize the real power of the omnichannel. Just remember: Don’t expect immediate results (patience is a virtue here), and continuously test new techniques and selling strategies before you launch them. And perhaps most importantly, always keep your customers at the center.
Many marketers view a “drive to web” campaign as simply moving an audience to a landing page in order to garner sales, signups, or other actions. The campaign launches, the desired actions are tabulated, and the marketing team moves on to the next campaign. This approach is outdated and doesn’t leverage the latest technology, tools, and marketing software that can help build more personalized and dynamic campaigns. There’s vast room for improvement in drive-to-web campaigns through analytics and optimization.
Looking at the Broader Experience
Upper-tier advertising and marketing agencies are looking beyond only campaign analytics, and considering the entire user experience and engagement. They’re shifting their focus because a positive experience is the way to attract and retain site visitors and the only way to encourage them to take action. Such experiences are generated by matching the offered content to consumers’ actual behaviors
In order to improve drive-to-web results, brands should develop content based on customer behaviors, and adjust it for every channel, from social media to OTT or linear TV. These brands must be more creative in how they adjust based on consumers’ consumption habits and then develop more refined consumer segments. So fundamentally they can offer the ideal content to the most receptive and relevant audience. And an advanced advertising firm can optimize this content dynamically to further improve the metrics of the drive-to-web campaigns.
Implementing the Right Tech
In order to improve the customer experience through content/segmentation/optimization, companies need to have in place the right tech tools. It’s essential to match first and third-party data, in the context of knowing what the visitor is doing on the site in real time and the actions they took before reaching the site. Correlating these two data sets allows for personalization as brands can develop a deeper understanding of the individual. Integrating together multiple data sets requires Big Data analytics and a keen sense of knowing which data carries the most “weight” in terms of how it will impact the customer experience and overall results.
The website offers a wealth of information that can be pulled together under a thoughtful and precise strategy. The basis of collecting this data is to use pixel tracking that monitors the exact options of visitors, from clicks to “hovers.” Marketers and advanced agencies can use more than 1,000 distinct pixel trackers that allow them to create customer “personas” where they are grouped together based on common behavioral metrics. A good starting point is a UX tracking pixel which measures the experience of a visitor and allows a brand to make changes to site navigation and the purchase process. Third-party data comes in with the use of provider pixels that can show marketers the actions of visitors’ web habits before they reach the brand. Another layer of data for the big data analytics platform is social media engagement tracking, which allows companies to for example correlate social media affinity or actions with certain products.
Moving into Optimization
The end result of this layering of first and third-party data is real-time segmentation and improved targeting that allows brands to present the right content to the right visitors while making incremental improvements to the site.
Over time, the marketing firm that adopts these methods and collects a trove of data can then create adaptive content that perfectly aligns customer behaviors with certain attributes. This personalization extends to both individuals and their preferred viewing device, whether it’s TV, mobile, or tablet. This is the pinnacle of personalization for the drive-to-web community, but getting to this place takes a strategic approach and the right tech tools.
Here are some best practices for brands that want to create the optimal drive-to-web campaigns that are informed by data and customer experiences:
Deeply understand the product so the messaging for the product can take consumers from awareness to desired action.
Cater messages to the preferred content viewing devices. Use your analytics to segment visitors based on device and then adjust the content to custom fit.
Change media planning based on customer behaviors. Understand how your specific industry also shapes the media mix.
The Broader Website Shift
By gathering 1,000 or more pixel-tracked data points and actual customer behaviors, brands have access to a new type of site “intelligence.” This data is enabling a different kind of website, one that evolved from landing pages and portals and moved beyond “Web 2.0”. The mobile site is now the primary content delivery platform and brands have the ability to dynamically adjust content to specific visitors. The site isn’t just an order-taking ecommerce tool, but it is also a source of invaluable analytics and insights which can be used to segment and delight customers. It’s the new way to conduct drive-to-web, one that’s light years ahead of the older “blanket approach” of reaching all possible customers with the same messaging through the same channel.
Brands and agencies that want to transform their drive-to-web campaigns should embrace this new style of site, where intelligence can be leveraged to guide behaviors.