Elicit Raises a $1.5 Million Series A to Fix Site Search

By Nathaniel Mott , written on May 15, 2012

From The News Desk

Chicago-based Elicit has raised a $1.5 million Series A funding round. Greycroft Partners, First Round Capital, ff Ventures, and Michael Lazerow’s L3 investment fund all participated.

Best described as human-driven search curation, Elicit was designed to assist marketers in tackling a serious issue: product search.

The company was founded after brothers Eric and Adam Heneghan noticed a disturbing trend in search patterns. "[Users are] typing in their own words [and] very explicitly [saying] what they're looking for, and marketers aren't paying any attention,” they said in a product demo with PandoDaily.

It’s hard to not think of Google Instant on steroids when Elicit is shown in action. Both platforms load search results, well, instantly, and offer a limited number of options to choose from as soon as a user begins typing.

Results are optimized for each query using a drag-and-drop interface. A list of results is shown on the far right of Elicit’s back-end, and a list of queries and their synonyms reside on the left. Once a query is selected, re-ordering the search results can take just a few seconds.

Say, for example, that a user searching Samsung’s site is shown a series of legal documents meant for investors and shareholders, when he searches for “iPad.” While these results may appear to be the most relevant to a search algorithm, the end-user is left wondering why they’re staring at a bunch of legalese instead of the product that they were looking for.

Using Elicit, anyone could come in and solve the issue by choosing to display the Samsung Galaxy Tab – the item that anyone searching Samsung was probably looking for – instead of the unrelated documents. Instead of staring into a pool of irrelevant search results, the user is taken to the destination that he probably had in mind in the first place.

The software seems to work, as the Heneghan brothers say that since companies have started using Elicit “half the users that were leaving the site are now staying,” and “91 percent of the time users choose items from our click-through sets.”

Elicit’s solution to the site search problem is similar to that of Y Combinator-backed Swiftype, which is also tackling the site search problem by adding a dash of human curation to the mix. The main difference between the two is Elicit’s interoperability with other search engines; where Swiftype acts as a standalone solution, Elicit can be used in conjunction with something like Google Site Search to offer the best of both worlds.

The creation of software like Elicit and Switftype speaks to the inefficiency of modern search engines. As content creators duke it out in the staged battlefield that is SEO companies end up paying the price for confused, irritated users. If Google has taught the digital generation anything, it’s that whatever information we’re looking for is just a query away, and it’s frustrating when that isn’t the case.