“It lets any company with a website answer a question about their own brand in a Google-like experience on their own site,” CEO Howard Lerman told me.
While Lerman is officially announcing Yext Answers onstage at the company’s Onward conference this afternoon, the issue is clearly one he’s been thinking about for a while — in an interview earlier this year, he described user-generated content as “tyranny,” and claimed the company’s “founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s.”
It’s a theme that Lerman returned to when he demonstrated the new product for me yesterday, running a number of Google searches — such as “student checking account” — where a brand might want to be relevant, but where the results mostly come from SEO-optimized advice and how-to articles from third-party sites.
“The world of search became pretty cluttered with all these self-declared experts,” he said.
The goal with Yext Answers is to turn a brand’s website into the source that consumers turn to for information on these topics. Lerman said the big obstacle is the simple fact that most site search is pretty bad: “The algorithms that are there today are the algorithms of 1995. It’s keyword-based document search.”
So if you don’t enter exactly the right keywords in exactly the right order, you don’t get useful results. Yext, on the other hand, has supposedly spent two years building its own search engine, with natural language processing technology.
As Lerman showed me, that means it can handle more complex, conversational queries like “broccoli cheese soup recipes in 10 minutes or less.” He also pointed out how Yext has tried to follow Google’s lead in presenting the results in a variety of formats, whether that’s just a straightforward answer to a question, or maps if you’re searching for store locations.
In addition, Yext Answers customers will get analytics about what people are searching for on their site. If people are searching for a question that the site isn’t answering, businesses can then take advantage of their company’s knowledge base to publish something new — and that, in turn, could also help them show up in search results elsewhere.
Yext Answers has been beta testing with companies like Three Mobile, BBVA USA, IHA and Healthcare Associates of Texas. You also can try it out for yourself on the Yext site.
“Yext Answers represents a level of sophistication that elevates our current search into a predictive, insightful tool that provides opportunities to better understand what our patient population is interested in finding on our site,” said Lori Gillen, marketing director at Healthcare Associates of Texas, in a statement. “It is intelligent enough to understand complex relationships between HCAT-specific facts, like doctors to procedures or specialties to locations, and give insights into what our patients want to know.”
Yext Answers is now available in English-speaking countries.