Takeaways from Yext’s Onward19 Conference
Yext’s keystone conference, Onward19, demonstrated just how big local search is with even more knowledge awesomeness shared than in years past. The keynotes alone were worth the price of admission just for their inspiration factor, including the likes of Jill Ellis, Magic Johnson, Seth Myers, Seth Godin, and I know I’m leaving off a few. With a total of 62 sessions, Onward19 delivered a steady stream of knowledge nuggets that move ROI. While the content was great, I also always appreciate the side conversations with industry friends even more so. But that being said, between the sessions and colleague conversations, there were three main themes to Onward19:
Natural Language Processing (NLP) was everywhere. From sessions about how search engines interpret it to how quickly humans are able to consume the different content forms for digitally written, visual, and auditory information. At the event, Yext even launched a new product dubbed Answers which brings “Google-like” search to a website. Yep, you guessed it, on-site search. But beyond its core function, Answers has a turbo with plenty of easy-to-use features. In releasing the product, Yext’s narrative was that the user’s journey starts with a question and your brand should be the answer for it.
“Fundamentals matter, it’s not always exciting but it’s the stuff that works.”
Yext isn’t wrong as content matters in all different ways beyond SEO. Organized content has the ability to fuel chatbots, help users find answers from the brands they trust and love while also enabling the brand to garner new loyalists through search engine reach. Above all, I was appreciative of the Onward19 crowd for elevating the concept to new heights. NLP hasn’t been discussed as many times at any other conference I’ve attended. Although, what went undiscussed was the role content plays in NLP because Answers is only as good as the content it’s referencing. Content remains the lifeblood of a website.
Yext’s Answers works by referencing content within a Knowledge Graph to answer users’ questions. With this, plenty of discussion was had around all the different forms that a Knowledge Graph comes in with Google, Facebook, and many other search products providing Knowledge Graph experiences. During the event, I particularly loved how the conversation morphed from the Knowledge Graph being one piece of data that Google weighs against the oodles of other data points (FWIW, an important weight) to there being a number of basic SEO needs (which, if you aren’t doing the basics well, advanced tactics won’t earn the incremental advantage you hoped for).
“Page one on Google is infinite if you’re targeting people also ask and other SERP features.”
Yext’s new product, Answers, complements the Listings and Pages products the company is already well-known for; cementing Yext as a powerhouse SaaS product for search. While Listings hosts your business information in order to power location data providers with accurate information, Pages empowers websites with the ability to create landing pages in a jiffy, but now with Answers, Yext can seamlessly surface the most valuable content (sourced from the Knowledge Graph) for users to discover. With the latest update, Yext isn’t far away from fighting with Squarespace and Wix but only time will tell if this new feature will pay off for the platform.
“In the future, winning will be done by knowing what information to ignore.”
There was only one real miss for me at Onward19. One of the most insightful sessions was a panel session called Marketing in an Answers-Ready World. There were a lot of insightful comments during this discussion particularly from Marisa Thalberg, Chief Brand Officer of Yum! Brands. Marisa is a marketing force and freely shared insights across a variety of topics. Her points underscored the imbalance in female speakers at Onward19 and how the knowledge shared could have been improved with more female speakers. Out of the 126 speaking opportunities I counted, only 43 were filled by women. I know many conferences are focused on equality and diversity in the voices and perspectives shared, but I believe Onward could further improve the conference by expanding the voices we hear from to include more women speakers. The balance matters.
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All things considered, it’s amazing how far Yext has grown Onward in just three short years. The level of technical knowledge shared has never been higher and that’s before you consider the production quality and location — it’s hard not to have a good time in New York City. While we’re ~360 days away, I’m already looking forward to the next meeting with the tribe at Onward 2020.