How to use natural language processing to transform your website

One way brands are accelerating their digital transformation efforts today is through the use of artificial intelligence (AI), long-touted for its ability to deliver greater speed and agility by automating, replacing, or creating business processes. But with leaner budgets — and, in some cases, less resources — marketing leaders will need to focus their investments to realize concrete value from AI.

It all starts with the website. A business’ website has long been its digital “front door,” but as a result of the pandemic, we’ve now seen a world in which it’s the only door. The question becomes, how can businesses use AI to transform their owned web presence? Enter natural language processing (NLP), which ensures websites can understand user intent and deliver answers.

NLP: An AI path to increasing revenue

NLP refers to the AI-powered ability of computers to process and analyze large amounts of human language in the way it is spoken. Recent advances in this technology have made search engines able to process and answer longer, more detailed queries. Users have learned they can simply ask for something — whether by typing into a search box or speaking aloud to Alexa, Siri, or Cortana — and the search engine will understand the intent behind their question and give them exactly what they want.

Consumers now expect the same experience on a business’ website. They assume they can ask multiword, natural language questions and receive an answer.

However, most businesses today cannot process these high-intent, natural language questions on their websites. According to research from Baymard, 61 percent of sites “require their users to search by the exact same product type jargon the site uses, e.g. failing to return all relevant products for a search such as “blow dryer” if “hair dryer” is used.” This means non-exact, natural language queries frequently go answered. This is a big problem for businesses, considering that 68 percent of consumers who have a bad experience with a website’s on-site search are likely never to return to that website again, Forrester Research finds.

That presents a potential major revenue loss, especially considering that customers who use site search are actually more valuable than those who don’t: Research shows 180 percent higher conversions among search users than website averages.

Why do these natural language queries convert more often, and why are site search users so valuable? The answer is: A more focused consumer search intent.

To illustrate with an example: A customer on a retailer’s website probably is less likely to be searching for just the keyword “clothes” or “jeans,” instead searching with the more specific “Dark wash boot cut jeans for petites.” This longer, conversational search phrase isn’t aimed at learning about jeans; it’s showcasing a clear intent to find and purchase products for a certain body type. Surfacing a series of links that mention the keyword “jeans” or “petites” is still an insufficient response because it isn’t serving that customer’s intent, which makes it less likely that person will buy a product.

On the other hand, business that leverage NLP capabilities on their websites can understand these valuable, conversational questions and deliver better answers — such as a product page for a pair of petite, dark-wash, boot-cut jeans with a built-in purchase button. Those answers drive more clicks and convert more customers.

To use a real-world example, girls’ clothing retailer Justice noticed a high search volume on their website — but the brand recognized it lacked the ability to respond to questions the way people ask them when typing or speaking out loud to their devices. By leveraging NLP to power their site search experience, the brand improved its ability to understand user intent and serve direct answers. By doing so, Justice ultimately saw a 6.4 percent higher conversion rate and 53 percent more revenue per website visit.

Delivering these highly targeted, responsive, conversion-optimized answers helps customers take action. There’s a side benefit as well: Harnessing the power of NLP doesn’t just help businesses convert customers today – it can help them to better understand customer behavior, and plan for the future. That’s because the way customers ask questions should inform both future site content and product planning. For example, wouldn’t it be helpful to know whether your customers are more often asking about “best” vs. “cheapest” products?

NLP can help businesses see and analyze the natural language questions customers are asking on their sites, and then use this information to better understand consumer behavior, build customer profiles, and predict what kinds of content and products users might seek going forward.

Business resilience through NLP

Investing in natural language capabilities on-site can pay dividends for businesses. But in this moment of economic uncertainty, marketing teams often have fewer resources — which means many businesses may seek value through existing partnerships.

The good news? Over the past several months, software vendors, system integrators, cloud service providers, and more have invested in technological and operational integrations to make orchestration easier and provide clear value alignment and output.

By integrating NLP into their websites, brands will not only advance their business’ resiliency during the ongoing pandemic, but also lay the foundation for a return to growth by improving the customer experience. By understanding customer intent trends over time, brands can position themselves to better align to the customer journey and provide the experience their customers expect in the long-term.

Learn more about NLP and why website search is mission-critical for brands.