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Profiles in Innovation:  Interview with Alec Belfer, CEO of Vioby

September 13, 2019 9:42:06 AM EDT

ForesightOne focuses on introducing unique and innovative technology to marketers. Our intent is to help ensure that marketers are meeting their business requirements in an optimum way. 

One area that we have explored was the increasingly high spend on Search Marketing (PPC). We identified many tools within and around SEM and search management technology, focused on analytics, keyword selections and overall search ad build and process.  Most claim to deliver optimization features that increase shopping conversions and PPC returns. 

One unique startup, however, thinks about the concept of maximizing customer conversions in a different way. Vioby is the only one of its kind that we identified to hike conversion rates by enhancing customer search experience.  How do they do it?  Well, by applying AI and semantics in such a way as to help ensure that customers of our retailer clients find what they are searching for in a very simple and straightforward manner, without having to conduct multiple rounds of search exercises to find exactly what they are looking for.  Specifically, ensuring that customers identify the most relevant product based upon their search intent, has been proven to significantly increase shopping conversions by up to 30%. 

You might ask, well isn't this something that all of the key search marketing platforms already do, the answer is no. Based upon its deep knowledge of search marketing, semantics and AI applications, Vioby has been able to add value to retailers who use search marketing platforms such as Google Ads, Search Ads 360, Bing and Kenshoo.  In this way, Vioby is helping its e-commerce clients exploit opportunities to improve the shopping experience and drive revenues.  

We took the opportunity to sit down with Vioby's CEO Alec Belfer to further understand the uniqueness and power of its technology. Alec has over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and senior company executive. He founded SoftTalk, a pioneer in communications technology and, after acquisition by Callware Technologies, continued to grow the combined companies. Joining Comverse, a larger public company, he held VP roles in most aspects of the business, including responsibilities for engineering, marketing, business development, and global services. Now, as co-founder and CEO of Vioby, he leads the company in developing novel search marketing technology, enhancing e-commerce customer experience to drive significant returns on PPC spend.

Starting Somewhat Big Picture:  What Trends in Search Marketing Right Now Do You Find Most Interesting?

“Although most consumers start their online shopping with a search, in the past few years, Amazon is rivaling or surpassing Google — a 2017 study had 55% using Amazon, 28% Google and other search engines and 16% a retailer website. " Why does Amazon do so well? Simple. They have a great platform and deliver a great shopper experience. Amazon’s search results have the products that really match what the shopper searched for. With Google, clicking on a retailer’s search ad often results in a page with much less relevant items. Sometimes pages with errors or no items at all. Not at all what the shopper asked to see. As retailers work to deliver a great experience for their shoppers, they will diminish Amazon’s current advantage.”

What Inspired Vioby's Solution?

“With a background in voice interactive systems that include interactive systems with natural language understanding, we saw an opportunity to emulate the sales associate you find in good retail stores for the online shopping experience. That means really understanding intent of your shopper and understanding the website and catalog. And, in the same way that that the sales associate shows you to exactly the rack and shelves stocked with what you wanted, the app would take the shopper to that same spot on the online website.”

What Are Vioby's Key Differentiators Related to Other Offerings?

“We have pioneered automation for optimizing the destination landing page URL for search ads. Although some others have started in this area, we have the experience and deployments showing results. By understanding the shopper’s query intent and the retailer website and catalog, we can ensure that the shopper lands on the page showing what they wanted to see.”

How Have Vioby's Solutions Evolved Since the Beginning?

“Our products have evolved in several keyways. First, our clients told us that they did not want stand-alone tools. In response, we integrated into the search management platforms our clients were already using: Search Ads 360 (formerly DoubleClick Search), Kenshoo, and Google Ads (AdWords) platforms. That way, our clients do not have additional separate tools and we are already integrated into their MarTech stack.

Second, we saw that some of our retailer ad campaigns could be improved by adding more long-tail keywords. We built a new Long-Tail Keyword Expansion tool for that. Adding the additional keywords resulted in better capture of shopper search intent and that resulted in more relevant destination landing pages.

 

Finally, we saw that retailers wanted to have better insight into their landing pages, so we built a Landing Page Insights tool for them. This new tool does deep analysis of all the landing pages and delivers actionable alerts and reports directly to the campaign manager.”

It appears many companies will tout AI features simply to be able to say their solution includes it. For businesses looking to integrate AI, what should they keep in mind? What is unique about the technology? About the AI deployment? 

“Just about every vendor says they use AI these days. The real issue is not the buzzword, though, but does the automated processing deliver results. A better experience for the shopper that results in more revenue for the retailer. That is what we do by employing the AI semantic understanding algorithms to really understand the shopper and the catalog.”

Are There Any Major Industry Misconceptions You See? Ideas or Attitudes You Think Need to be Debunked?

“Although retailers know that optimizing campaign performance is a priority, the focus often is limited to campaign and ad group structure, bidding and the ad creative, with much less emphasis on ensuring that a shopper’s click actually goes to the optimal website destination. But, just looking at the numbers of shoppers starting on Amazon should convince retailers that understanding the shopper and then ensuring that the shopper lands on the most relevant destination on your website is key. By delivering a better user experience, higher conversion rate and more loyal customers will be the result.”

What About Voice Shopping? How Will That Impact the Requirements of Search?

“With the increased popularity of intelligent assistants on mobile phones and stand-alone devices, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, users are using their voice for tasks including search and shopping.  The initial apps, such as for Whole Foods (on Amazon Alexa) and Walmart (on Google Assistant), are focused on simple tasks, such as reordering groceries. They are good, but users will want to be able to browse and purchase from large catalogs. The key will be the capability to fully understand user intent, match that to the most relevant items in the catalog and engage in a dialog with shoppers to find exactly what they want to purchase. In essence, an intelligent online shopping assistant. The Vioby technology is well suited to this task and we are currently in product development for this exciting new opportunity.”

Anything that we need to be more careful with in the future? 

“Targeting & personalization will continue to increase with the extreme amounts of data now available and the systems that can instantly use it. We must balance user privacy with the use of personal data to deliver better experiences, but not cross the line on personal privacy. If we marketers do not, regulators will.”

In conclusion,

Alec’s insights speak for themselves.  Vioby uniquely extends the importance of customer experience to the search shopping world.  As e-commerce search marketing spend continues to increase, the importance of ensuring that  the spend is generating maximum returns become critical, and, customer experience plays a vital role.   Just as a face-to-face shopping interaction occurs at your local mall, online shopper expectations will look for trending customer experience to enter their world.   Click here to learn more. 

 

Curt Bloom
Written by Curt Bloom

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