Purna Virji, named by PPC Hero as the #1 most influential PPC Expert in the world, specializes in SEM, SEO and the future of search. In this morning’s keynote, moderated by Anna Hutson, Purna shared insights into how AI is changing how we behave as marketers and what we need to do as marketers to adapt.

In this constantly evolving landscape, Purna explains how technology, as it grows smaller and its capabilities grow larger, is finding a way to fit into every aspect of our lives. As such, mobile is quickly becoming a state of being, and not merely a device. Users are leaning more heavily on their mobile devices and digital assistants to accomplish everyday tasks and purchases. Marketers and platforms alike are shifting their focus to a user centric model to put people at the center, and shifting their messaging and tools to provide benefits for the user.

Purna calls out three rapidly increasing ways that users are finding and interacting with brands, and recommends that marketers begin strategizing and optimizing to meet these demands.

1. Images

Users are now able to search by an image when they can’t find the words to describe what they are looking for. Furthermore, on platforms such as Bing, they are able to search within an image. If a user is searching for “open concept kitchens” to get an idea for their new remodel, they are able to select a piece of an image–for instance a stool, a light fixture, a cookie jar­–and find similar products to purchase. Another example that Purna gives is Pintrest’s “shop the look” feature which essentially does the same thing. Realtor.com has also launched a tool where users can take a picture of a house marked for sale and get more information about its listing. For search marketers, images and cameras are quickly becoming the new search box. However, these features are currently not being monetized and exist purely to be helpful and beneficial to the user.

Purna recommends preparing your visuals by optimizing them with SEO, as well as optimizing your shopping feeds as these features are pulling products organically. Because visuals are so powerful and influential to buyers, she thinks this needs to be a priority.

2. Chat Bots

As users shift from a typing world to a voice controlled world, a variety of digital assistants are gaining popularity. The first are chat bots and text-based assistants. They aim to create a conversation with the user and add value to their experience.

One example Purna gave was a chat bot for a shoe store. The chat bot begins by giving categories such as bestsellers and men’s shoes. When the user selects bestsellers, the chat bot gives a swipeable feed of the best-selling shoes. The user asks, “Do you have anything to match this shirt?” and uploads a picture of his new shirt. The chat bot replies with a new shoe suggestion to which the user replies, “Too formal.” The chat bot suggests a second, more casual pair of shoes, which the user purchases.

Another great example is the chat bot for Lego, which utilizes the brand’s language when it asks, “How old is the builder?” before giving suggestions.

These chat bots are being used in search platforms to make search results more conversational. But brands need to give people a reason to talk to them and ultimately need to make their customer’s lives easier. Purna recommends only using a chat bot if it solves the user’s problems in a minimum number of steps, is easier than the alternative, and is intuitive. This will require that businesses optimize and tag their photos for the bot’s knowledge for things such as color, and casual vs formal (per the example above). These chat bots are also being used in banner ads, which takes the business to the user instead of waiting for the user to come to the business or to the search platform.

3. Voice Search and Digital Assistants

Voice search is gaining popularity for those moments when we just can’t use our hands. Right now, this technology is mainly being used for quick answers and tasks. For questions with a clear answer (“What’s the capital of Oregon?”) the answers are being pulled from the knowledge graph. For questions with a conversational answer (“What’s the difference between Holland and the Netherlands?”) the answers are pulled from featured snippets. For questions with many different answers (“What’s the best band of all time?”) the voice assistant will give the user a list of search results.

Purna explains that the easier a digital assistant can access your brand’s information the more it will show your brand in these voice searches. She recommends marking up your content, answering questions conversationally, using PAA (People Always Ask) boxes and suggestions, and optimizing for featured snippets, local listings, reviews etc.

However, these digital assistants are also learning each user’s preferences and are able to make suggestions for other brands, tools, or purchases. For instance, when asked to make a reservation for 2 at Barrio around 8pm, Cortana responds, “I have made a reservation at Barrio at 8:30pm for two people. Would you like me to schedule an Uber?” This is another example of how tools and platforms are trying to be useful to consumers but are not monetized.

As AI’s knowledge and capabilities increase, users will gain a more personalized experience and marketers will gain greater insights into their audiences. Purna recommends marketers use visuals to get discovered and purchased; use conversation to influence, convert and build brand loyalty; and use data to do what was previously impossible.

Purna Virji is currently the Senior Manager of Global Engagement at Microsoft. Purna was the CEO of Purview Marketing prior to joining the Bing Ads team. Say hello to her at @purnavirji

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