May 17, 2007, 12:00 AM

Tie what’s hot on the web to what comes up on your site, analyst suggests

A breaking new story, change in the weather or a fast-moving fashion trend can change consumers’ interests quickly. There are automated ways to turn the latest buzz into more relevant search results.

A news photo showing Britney Spears in an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini might cause a sudden spike in demand for just that kind of swimsuit. There are automated ways Internet retailers can keep track of that online buzz and turn it into more relevant site search results, says Susan Aldrich, a site search expert and senior vice president of consulting firm The Patricia Seybold Group.

There is software available that can tie data feeds from Internet tracking companies like Nielsen/NetRatings into a retailer’s site search system, so that the system would automatically boost results of items that relate to topics that are generating a lot of interest among Internet users, Aldrich says.

She likens it to hardware stores putting up signs advertising fans and air conditioners on the first hot day of summer, except that the process is automated and based on data collected from millions of Internet users, and not on the store owner noticing that it’s hot outside.

“Sometimes it’s kind of rocket science in that humans would never notice this, and other times it’s very obvious,” Aldrich says. “But the point is humans don’t have to get involved.”

That’s important because the merchandising specialists at most retailers are busy and may miss a new trend. “They’re handling six major product categories; they don’t have time to watch what Britney’s up to this week,” Aldrich says. Retailers often look at trend data that is a day old, if not a week or a month old, she adds.

The other beauty of this approach is that, unlike web sites that ask customers to add descriptive tags to products, shoppers don’t have to do anything special. “They’re creating content just by doing what they do,” Aldrich says. “But the end result is they’re getting better search results and better recommendations and offers, and so does everybody else.” She says retailers also can track searches on their own sites to detect trends and use that data to move certain items up to the top of search results.

Aldrich mentions Loomia and Collarity as two companies offering technology that allows retailers to provide better search results based on the behavior of Internet users.

Aldrich will speak at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 4-7 in San Jose, in a session entitled Building Web Sales With Better Marketing And Richer Content.

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