Lucidworks CMO: Tackling intelligent search

Chief marketing officer of search technology company talks through the impact of search on personalisation

Each year, organisations spend billions of dollars on attracting would-be customers to their sites using search engines. But the experience many visitors have after they click a result and land on a site is an often-overlooked element of their buyers’ journey.

With the exception of Amazon, most organisations don’t have the budgets to invest in large search technology teams, despite appreciation of the importance of search for attracting customers in the first place. But then what is the point of bringing a would-be customer o your site if they can’t find what they want once they get there?

The problem of onsite search is one San Francisco-based Lucidworks has been tackling since its inception as Lucid Imagination back in 2007. The company creates intelligent search solutions using the Apache Lucene/Solr open source search platform, augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities based on the Apache Spark computing framework.

“Search engines are good at understanding user intent, unlike a database or data warehouse, and they are very good at delivering results that are relevant and contextual, which underpin all kinds of personalisation,” says Lucidworks CMO, Vivek Sriram. “The trick is how do you deal with this stuff at very large volumes.

“The thing we have done at LucidWorks is a build a bunch of scaffolding around a search engine that allows it to be operated across tens of billions of documents and thousands if not millions of simultaneous queries.

It is a highly technical proposition, and once that suits Sriram’s background. Into his second stint at Lucidworks, he spent four years in between building search technology for Amazon, and is now seeking to bring some of that capability to other organisations.

“Getting search to work at scale is hard,” Sriram says. “Amazon is able to get search to work well because there are about 600 people who just work on search. They also have access to the world’s biggest supercomputer, and they have access to all your data. If you don’t have the traffic, if you don’t have access to the computing power, and you can’t hire the talent, then pulling off search is pretty difficult. What are trying to do on the talent and computing side is to make that available for normal people.”

Lucidworks represents Sriram’s first time in the CMO role, having begun his career as an engineer. He says, however, the complicated nature of the company’s technology stack makes his background highly valuable.

“The only way to make the marketing function for a company like this to work well is to have marketing people who come from an engineering background,” Sriram says.

Hence he spends a great deal of this time talking to marketers about how intelligent search can drive conversion, both through providing more intelligent results, but also by fuelling other influencer tools such as recommendation engines.

“For most online merchants, something like 30 to 40 per cent of all transactions will be influenced by that,” Sriram says. “It’s huge, because people don’t necessarily know what they are looking for, and most people in the world aren’t able to describe what it is that they want.”

Much of Lucidwork’s value comes through analysing signals beyond just what the visitor types into the search box.

“They may have clicked on a category,” Sriram says. “That kind of thing gives us a huge amount of inference about the kind of things they are looking for. We don’t think about the search box as being the only way to interact with things. The mirror image of that is discovery and recommendations.

The goal is to drive a personalised experience down to the individual level, with search technology able to deliver a personalised outcome that goes far beyond just the search result itself.

 “The entire page layout and page taxonomy can oftentimes be driven by the search engine itself,” Sriram adds.

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