When you think about the state of the customer experience on the Web there is a big difference between giving customers tools to search for something and actually helping them to find what they are looking for.
The basic Web experience that everyone is familiar with is that you come to a home page, find the search box and punch in a few keywords with the hope that the results will enable you to find what you are actually looking for. When you think about that process, it puts a lot of the onus for finding things on the people trying to use the site versus relying more on the people who built the site to simplify the navigation process.
That's why the $34 million acquisition of Q-go.com B.V., a leading natural language search provider, by RightNow Technologies, a provider of customer experience and support applications, is worthy of some attention. According to Brian Curran, RightNow vice president of Web solutions, the key thing about the natural search technology being acquired by RightNow is that not only does it allow people to type normal questions into a website in order to find something, it also rephrases the question in a way the optimizes the search results.
Curran says that Q-go.com has spent years optimizing its natural language search technology in a way that allows it to "actively listen" to what the user is looking for and make constructive suggestions about how to optimize their query. Anybody who has ever spent any time crawling around a website looking for a specific piece of information can appreciate the concept.
From a business perspective, natural search engines will give owners of websites an option to either replace their existing search engines with a more cost-effective approach that provides more value, or they can choose to layer natural language search technology alongside traditional search engine technologies provided by companies such as Google or any other provider of a search engine appliance.
Curran contends that companies that deploy natural language search technology are going to be able to better monetize their sites because they can also showcase specific offers that are tied to the questions they have programmed their sites to answer.
Natural search engines do require some ongoing work to be effective. The software needs to be regularly tuned to meet the changing needs of users, so the questions that users are asking need to be monitored in order to make sure that the search engine can offer up relevant questions. So the success of a natural search engine is going to be directly tied to how well the website owners model their questions.
But it's pretty clear at this point that the more relevant answers a website provides a user, the more useful that site becomes. And as end users discover that some websites are more useful than others, they will eventually abandon the ones that only give them access to search engines that analyze keywords, and then rank those results based on an algorithm that usually has very little to do with what the customer is trying to find in the first place.