27.Feb.2018

Jeremy Ryan
EVP, Creative & Digital Services

The Evolving Web

Anticipating AI/Automation, Voice Assistants, and Next-Gen Content Marketing

I was recently asked to write a short POV in response to this question: “describe your philosophy and strategic approach to websites, particularly how sites are likely to evolve in the next few years.” I was only allowed a few sentences for that response, but I think the topic is worthy of a larger discussion—particularly the trends in web design and digital strategy that are crucial for the higher ed and nonprofit organizations we serve.

Our overarching philosophy at Lipman Hearne is to put the audience at the center of every activity. Period. In other words: customer-centric design principles. That affects everything from the basics, such as responsive design and WCAG AA / accessibility, to more advanced concepts and activities such as translating the brand promise into experiential designs and content plans that emphasize storytelling. That doesn’t mean that we ignore business needs. Rather, we know that if we put the customer at the center of the experience, everything else will fall in line and the business will be served.

This informs our views on the future state of websites as products and not projects, and important changes that are on the horizon. We’re focusing on three areas where we expect (and are driving) ongoing evolution and, at times, disruption:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation: increasingly intelligent content engines (CRMs with CMSs, for example) will support content and consumer engagement automation, and more nimbly optimize that content for users, driving activities more efficiently to points of conversion. We’re seeing early successes with this already, beyond landing pages and simple advertising using AI chat-bots, but fully expect web content and end-to-end experience management platforms to become ubiquitous in the next few years. This means that you’ll need to wisely choose CMS platforms that can handle ongoing content updates and have a plan for incorporating automation, or else lose to their competitors who are ready to embrace what this technology will do.
  • Voice-assisted search and new search algorithms: it’s no longer enough to optimize your site for organic and paid search. Currently, one in five searches happen with voice assistants, but we expect that number to grow to four out of five within the next two years. This means creating content priorities and hierarchies that consider how technological intermediaries (i.e., Alexa, Siri, etc.) will work on the site’s (and brand’s) behalf. Consider that these devices will be your brand’s voice for assisted search. What do you want them saying about you? Anyone who uses them hates the response, “I’m not sure how to help you with that.” In other words, if you’re ill-prepared, they’ll (and you’ll) be mute. Additionally, Google’s latest algorithm considers content attributes that reward content in ways that dovetail with these principle. Important recent changes consider “three P’s” of Prominence (content and keyword fit), Preference (user ratings), and Proximity (geographic positioning relative to user). You will need to create content priorities and hierarchies that consider how technological intermediaries will work on the site’s behalf.
  • New types of content marketing: while content marketing is not new, of course, most institutions do not maintain an appropriate content publishing calendar and sustainable governance model (strike a nerve? Reach out). Compounding this challenge, the new digital landscape has begun to embrace the impermanent over the permanent. “Stories” features allow brands to produce content that captures experiences at an increasingly “micro” level. These tiny, ultimately unarchived details might previously have been considered too granular to put out on owned channels. However, they can, in aggregate, act as powerful and authentic evidence for a brand’s narrative and attributes. This content shift means you need to seriously consider content models that appropriately leverage both permanent and ephemeral content to build an audience—and reinforce your brand—at all levels of the conversion funnel.

Ultimately, most customers are not in it for a quick, transactional relationship, which means that every touchpoint, including web and social channels, must build affinity with your prospects. This is a long game, and having a strategic approach to new innovations will ultimately build both your brand and your audiences.

I want to hear from you! What technologies do you see shaping your organization’s online marketing efforts? What’s your approach? Tweet me @jeremy_t_ryan or send me an email at jryan@lipmanhearne.com.

Want to up your website game, but not sure where to start? Read Jeremy’s five favorite tips for improving your site on a modest budget.