I expect more creative advertising options from a visual search engine than in-text or YouTube video insertions. Yet this is what SearchMe has offered major brands like Volvo in the public beta testing of its new advertising network.
Maybe my expectations are too high. Lord knows I’m not a fan of “creative” ads that take over my screen or offer “guaranteed engagement.” As a user I’m grateful these in-text ads are less intrusive; yet from an advertiser perspective I wonder if these SearchMe’s advertisements blend too well with the search platform.
SearchMe stole a page from Google AdWords’ contextual ad design, but that is where the resemblance ends. These ads appear at the bottom of every 20th web page screen shot that’s returned based on search queries filtered through specific categories, such as “shopping.” Website descriptions appear when ads don’t, yet both look identical. Both descriptions and ads show for five seconds with an option to mouse over a magnifying glass to make them reappear.
Some searchers may feel misled, thinking all of these look-alike ads are really just descriptions of the above website. This subterfuge could explain the high click-through rates SearchMe reports having during initial testing of its ad platform that began in February.
A TechCrunch article quotes SearchMe Co-Founder and CEO Randy Adams as saying 600 advertisers received a 25 cent cost-per-click and an 8 percent click-through rate. The statistic we don’t see, however, is the resultant cost per acquisition or conversion.
These numbers mean little if searchers have difficulty distinguishing ads from descriptions, and I can’t imagine someone who feels tricked into clicking into a site they weren’t expecting is likely to be a viable customer.
That said, there are some benefits for both advertisers and the web pages that appear on SearchMe. Users can add pages to “Stacks” that make it easier to store and share favorite sites. Sharing stacks to Facebook was extremely easy. Users see their stored stacks, as well as other Facebook user and friend stacks.
SearchMe doesn’t specifically state whether stacked ads remain on social sharing sites when advertisers decide to pull the placement. The site does say stacks are stored on your computer and the company is working to improve this feature.
Overall, results for visual search engines are awkward in general because fewer fit on page one. That’s what makes SearchMe’s categorization nice, because it organizes search results to give advertisers a better shot at their target audience. (If you’re unfamiliar with SearchMe, categories automatically pop up based on keyword queries. So a search for “Ford” will show categories for museums and companies, while a search for “motocross” will bring up shopping, motorcycles and many other categories.) So it pains me to dislike the site’s advertising platform design.
This site really needs to distinguish descriptions from advertisements in a way that’s just as creative and innovative as the search engine. The search engine’s overall design makes it far more fun to use than its competitors KartOO or Middlespot, but its ads are more likely to misdirect and annoy users.
Official Oneupweb Review: Oneup Thumbs-Down (Loving the search engine doesn’t improve the ad network).