Most companies still think of digital experiences in terms of destination — where they’re driving customers or prospects. While that’s the predominant means of delivery, users increasingly expect content to come to them.

Display advertising and retargeting solutions already work this way; why shouldn’t the rest of the experience?

That’s where digital is driving, but until we get there, it’s going to be a combination of push and pull. Search is a powerful “pull” tool: a simple and natural way for users to signal intent. But it should be just that — an expression of intent — not an exercise in guesswork on the part of the user. And it’s not all “pull,” either.

Reading Into Intent

In the past, customers needed to develop hyper-specific queries to filter through all of the information out there. But new technologies and solutions make it possible to deliver personalized content to customers in innovative ways that achieve tangible business results. The search box can stay — but you can offer consumers much more than a simple stream of results. Search is one place where “pull” can meet “push.”

Search innovations proactively use visitor information and behavior to provide predictive insights into the content or actions visitors want, and supplement that with personalized and contextualized content anticipating the visitor’s needs. A strong search solution should not only draw relevant content from sources controlled by the company, but also automatically pull and correlate information from third-party sources like social channels and other websites.

Companies can also use website events — like shopping cart abandonment or visitor session abandonment following a search — to trigger an email push reminding the customer to complete the process. Well-integrated search can promote personalized, relevant content to increase conversions, drive higher sales, and boost customer satisfaction and loyalty. User search drives these actions, but the follow up creates the real value, because the user has related information pushed to them on the website or through other channels. The value to a user is much greater than a simple results page.

Integrating information publishing with social channels like Facebook or LinkedIn allows users to subscribe to specific topics of interest and see related information feeds. They are no longer explicitly searching for that information; instead, a brief expression of intent results in continuous new and relevant information being pushed to them.

It's Not Confined to Websites

Web technology has evolved significantly in the last few years, making it possible to tackle the push model more comprehensively. Subscription feeds allow companies to push information to multiple end-points and hit users on their preferred channel. Location-based services enable companies to send information to the device using location, historical behavior, and other contextual signals that make the experience personal.  

As technologies like Google Now become more mainstream, user expectation of content presented in context grows, as does the importance of a push model. This requires that all content/information be analyzed, organized and made available with the right metadata, so it can be leveraged for contextual delivery by the consuming applications.

Other applications like augmented reality can take push beyond websites, using real-world trigger images or location data to automatically present users with experiences personalized to where they’re standing or what they’re looking at. As I said, the users care more about the experience itself than how they got there. Why should they confine these expectations to the web?

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Privacy remains an important question, but born-digital users have shown their willingness to share information in return for more personal experiences. The key is giving them value with that exchange. Companies should be ready to adapt to this push model of information consumption.

Right now, we remain in a hybrid environment of “push” and “pull.” The best digital experiences harness elements of both. The expectation of push is growing, and, while we won't lose pull anytime soon, to deliver truly great digital experiences, companies need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to content delivered seamlessly in context, and keep pushing the envelope to attract and retain customers.