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Do you want a visual search engine?

Recently I complained that it’s harder than ever to get interested in new search engines. So, as my cosmic comeuppance, it seems like every day I am running across a new search engine, and many of them claim that their big innovation is that they’re visual. Maybe it’s just me, but I am not really looking for a visual search engine. I’m looking for the right answer. In truth, however, it could just be me, because I am one of the least visual people around.


When I was in college, I was given a test to determine my preferred learning modes, and was told that I was in the 95th percentile in verbal learning ability. (Are you impressed?) I was also told that I was in the 3rd percentile in spatial learning ability. (Ouch.) So, you’re lucky that I became a writer instead of an interior decorator. (And so are the small people at my house with open mouths yelling, “Food!”)
But most of the world is more visual than verbal, which is why most people prefer TV to books, and video games to radio. So, as a public service, let me talk to you about a couple of new visual search engines. I don’t know why anyone would prefer to use these engines over traditional ones, but maybe that’s because I am visually challenged.
Even though I don’t get them, you need to remember that I didn’t get Twitter either, and now I like it. So in addition to being a verbal learner, I might be a slow one, too.
The first one to talk about is Viewzi. I took a look at Viewzi and was momentarily thrown by exactly what I was looking it. After a little more inspection, I was permanently thrown. The search results are displayed as screen shots of the page with the information, with optional filters that help you further drill into the results. Other people told me what a great idea this is, and maybe it is. You have to be invited to see it, so most of you probably can’t take a peek. But if you do get a chance to look at it, please tell me how this gets you better answers or saves you time. I admit to being too stupid to use this search engine. Like Twitter, maybe I will get smarter about it, but my first impression of Viewzi was that I would not be returning.
The second search engine worth mentioning is SearchMe. This one holds more appeal for me, although I found the screen previews (the visual part) overbearing. It shows big screen shots of pages that you leaf through, book-style, to see the top ten results. As a visual search engine, I didn’t like it (are you seeing a pattern here?) but I found other aspects that I liked. To me, it’s more of a social search engine, because it relies on feedback from searchers to refine results. It asks you to choose between different senses of meaning for words and categorizes search results based on them. If SearchMe catches on, then as more people use it, you’d expect the categories to get richer and the search results better.
But this post was supposed to be about the visual. And I am hard-pressed to see how either of these innovations are better than the well-designed Ask.com interface that previews pages when you mouse over the binoculars icon. Ask gives you the traditional list view that makes it easy to scan the results for what you are looking for, and it gives you a way to preview the page before you click. To me, that’s the best of both worlds.
As I complained in my earlier post, it continues to get harder for me to get excited about new search engines. If Google introduced these features, then it would be worth considering the impact on search marketing. These visual features might give an advantage to sites with pleasing visual designs, rather than those with pure text appeal, because those screen previews would favor higher clickthrough to sites that look good.
So search marketers might want to think ahead. Just as those who began emphasizing video content reaped the benefits when Universal Search debuted, perhaps you might consider better visual design as the next area to consider. When Google starts offering screen previews, it might make all the difference in the world.
And, as computer users opt for bigger and multiple screens, maybe a screen preview will begin to become a better user interface for search. So, mobile search might continue to be list-based for the small screen but larger computer monitors offer real estate that search engines will take advantage of. But I haven’t seen anything revolutionary yet.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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