Clark Boyd (Candid Digital): “Visual search will allow consumers to begin and end their purchase journey in entirely new ways”

clark boyd

Today we have an interview you can´t miss with Clark Boyd, digital marketing and branding specialists. Over the last 10 years, he has devised and implemented international strategies for brands including American Express, Adidas, and ASOS. He is passionate about teaching, and collaborates with online courses for AVADO/Google Squared Online and EMERITUS (Columbia Business School and MIT).

Many of the key trends in e-commerce for 2019 relate to the creation of a more compelling experience through visual media.
Through formats like shoppable videos on YouTube and the ever-increasing popularity of Instagram Stories, brands have an unprecedented array of tactics at their disposal.
As a result, it is now possible to create dynamic, sophisticated narratives that engage consumers from inspiration through to loyalty. Emerging technologies, most notably visual search, will allow consumers to begin and end their purchase journey in entirely new ways.
And yet, it is also arguable that we are seeing digital media take on the elements that have made offline advertising so convincing in the past. E-commerce now plays host to large-scale brand campaigns, as well as text-based paid search ads. As such, businesses see digital advertising as a viable way to inspire an audience, as well as convert. That makes it a much more exciting place to be, for marketers and consumers alike.
Of course, this can only be enabled by a unified approach to data management. The data and technology infrastructure within a business is what will ultimately allow marketers to enact their narrative-based strategies. For those that get this right, the potential of true personalisation is now tantalisingly close to reality.

Name 3 bad practices that you see in the day to day SEO of e-commerce, and how you would correct them.

  • Content written purely for search engines: I’m sure we’ve all encountered this phenomenon and I know why it happens. These blocks of ‘SEO content’ appear on category and product pages, filled with keywords and with the pure aim of ranking higher through search. I’ve written pretty extensively about this infuriating practice here. The industry has moved on and we need to create content that engages the site visitor, not just search bots.
  • Incorrect or under-utilised structured data: In particular, image Schema formats are overlooked and should be a healthy route to increased traffic for retailers. The search results pages are evolving into a multimedia store-front for brands, but search engines need some assistance in ordering and then serving the right information. Structured data is a simple, yet under-utilised, way to maximise the use of this search real estate.
  • Managing out of stock products: It can be very challenging to manage products that go out of stock for SEO. Google does not want to serve these results, as they make for a poor user experience. Why send someone to an out of stock product when other retailers do have it? This creates an issue where some sites will de-index or remove the page until the product comes back in stock, but of course they then need to get the page indexed again and, if they removed the page, they essentially start from zero again. The best approach here is to monitor Google crawl activity daily using a log file analyser and work closely with product teams to plan for any stock outages. That can severely minimise the time that the site spends out of the search results.

How do you think voice searches will affect SEM?

I am definitely not getting carried away with the voice search hype, and would advise search marketers to think carefully before declaring that it will revolutionise the industry.
First of all, marketers should analyze voice search usage to pinpoint the new behaviours that this technology enables.
Often, consumers opt for voice when they can’t type a query, or when it is simply faster to speak than to type. Therefore, the query is the same message expressed through different means.
As a result, I would hope that marketers move away from trying to match exact queries in their content and focus instead on matching the underlying intent state. We have numerous ways of expressing the same thing through language, so our efforts would be better spent on trying to answer the genuine need of the customer rather than the intricacies of how they express it.
Furthermore, this trend must be considered as part of a broader strategy. Voice alone will not see a consumer move from consideration to purchase to loyalty. Shopping, whether online or offline, is a visual experience. We should be thinking of how to integrate voice with other interfaces, so that our audience can complete every task on their journey as easily as possible. For a search marketer, this means giving serious thought to how we convey our messages through ad space that may be on a mobile device, in a car, or on a smart screen at home.
Finally, I can see a future where voice ushers in an age of conversational search. This seems the logical destination for this technology, with voice queries opening up a dialogue rather than today’s stilted ‘question and answer’ exchanges. Companies like Facebook and Google are investing heavily in the AI chips required to produce a genuine ‘smart’ assistant, so we should expect to welcome this technology within the next few years.

In e-commerce, what relevant KPIs do you think are often neglected?

Marketing sits between the business and the consumer. All too often, it creates its own metrics that reflect the interests of neither end of this spectrum.
Therefore, I think marketing should focus on how its activities can contribute to the factors that really matter to the business as a whole, and to their audience.
From a business perspective, that means prioritizing metrics like profitability and understanding how each channel’s revenue contributes to that goal.
That approach can manifest itself in a search strategy that incorporates metrics from the merchandising and product teams, such as stock levels and profit margins. Moreover, given the importance of e-commerce for so many businesses, we are seeing more marketers involved at board level. That provides invaluable insight that can shape the measurement strategy.
I am confident that we will see analytics platforms evolve to fulfil this need through 2019. We will see marketing performance dashboards that integrate more effectively with business intelligence solutions.
From the consumer standpoint, we should focus on user engagement and satisfaction metrics that indicate a successful acquisition.
Although Google most likely does not use these factors in its search algorithms, we should remember that the job of a search marketer doesn’t stop once we get the consumer through to the site. Our responsibility is to fulfil the customer’s need on the site, not just on the search results page. That applies to technical SEO as much as it does to UX metrics.
This approach ties in neatly with some of the business objectives that matter beyond marketing, through customer reviews and feedback surveys, for example. Today, I think too many marketers are focused on metrics in their channel-specific dashboards, rather than the lived experience of their audience.