Oct
29
2019
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Yext Answers helps businesses provide better site search

Yext helps businesses manage their presence on search and across the web; starting today, with the launch of Yext Answers, it’s also helping them provide a better experience on their own websites.

“It lets any company with a website answer a question about their own brand in a Google-like experience on their own site,” CEO Howard Lerman told me.

While Lerman is officially announcing Yext Answers onstage at the company’s Onward conference this afternoon, the issue is clearly one he’s been thinking about for a while — in an interview earlier this year, he described user-generated content as “tyranny,” and claimed the company’s “founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s.”

It’s a theme that Lerman returned to when he demonstrated the new product for me yesterday, running a number of Google searches — such as “student checking account” — where a brand might want to be relevant, but where the results mostly come from SEO-optimized advice and how-to articles from third-party sites.

“The world of search became pretty cluttered with all these self-declared experts,” he said.

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The goal with Yext Answers is to turn a brand’s website into the source that consumers turn to for information on these topics. Lerman said the big obstacle is the simple fact that most site search is pretty bad: “The algorithms that are there today are the algorithms of 1995. It’s keyword-based document search.”

So if you don’t enter exactly the right keywords in exactly the right order, you don’t get useful results. Yext, on the other hand, has supposedly spent two years building its own search engine, with natural language processing technology.

As Lerman showed me, that means it can handle more complex, conversational queries like “broccoli cheese soup recipes in 10 minutes or less.” He also pointed out how Yext has tried to follow Google’s lead in presenting the results in a variety of formats, whether that’s just a straightforward answer to a question, or maps if you’re searching for store locations.

In addition, Yext Answers customers will get analytics about what people are searching for on their site. If people are searching for a question that the site isn’t answering, businesses can then take advantage of their company’s knowledge base to publish something new — and that, in turn, could also help them show up in search results elsewhere.

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Yext Answers has been beta testing with companies like Three Mobile, BBVA USA, IHA and Healthcare Associates of Texas. You also can try it out for yourself on the Yext site.

“Yext Answers represents a level of sophistication that elevates our current search into a predictive, insightful tool that provides opportunities to better understand what our patient population is interested in finding on our site,” said Lori Gillen, marketing director at Healthcare Associates of Texas, in a statement. “It is intelligent enough to understand complex relationships between HCAT-specific facts, like doctors to procedures or specialties to locations, and give insights into what our patients want to know.”

Yext Answers is now available in English-speaking countries.

May
14
2019
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CEO Howard Lerman on building a public company and the future of Yext

It’s just over two years since Yext debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, and to mark the occasion, I sat down with co-founder and CEO Howard Lerman for an interview.

As Lerman noted, Yext — which allows businesses to manage their profiles and information across a wide variety of online services — actually presented onstage at the TechCrunch 50 conference back in 2009. Now, it boasts a market capitalization of nearly $2.3 billion, and it just revealed plans to take over a nine-floor building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, turning it into Yext’s global headquarters.

My interview with Lerman actually came before the announcement, though he managed to drop in a few veiled hints about the company making a big move in real estate.

More concretely, we talked about how Lerman’s management style has evolved from scrappy startup founder to a public company CEO — he described holding five-minute meetings with every Yext employee as “one of the best management techniques” he’s ever adopted.

Lerman also argued that as online misinformation has become a big issue, Yext has only become more important: “Our founding principle is that the ultimate authority on how many calories are in a Big Mac is McDonald’s. The ultimate authority on where Burger King is open is Burger King.”

Vowing that he will remain CEO of Yext for “as long as this board will have me,” Lerman ended our conversation with a passionate defense of the idea that “a company is the ultimate vehicle in America to effect good in the world.”

You can read a transcript of our conversation below, edited and condensed for clarity.

TechCrunch: To start with a really broad question, how do you think Yext is different now than it was two years ago?

Howard Lerman: One of the things that’s defined Yext over the years is our continuous willingness to reinvent ourselves. You started covering us in 2009 [at] TechCrunch 50, we were a launch company there.

And here we are now. One of the cool things about being public is: It’s a total gamechanger. It’s a gamechanger not just for access to capital, but it’s particularly important in global markets. And I’m not talking about capital markets, I’m talking about the markets in which we sell software. We have offices now from Berlin to Shanghai.

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