SearchTHIS: Search is a Snap

It never ceases to amaze me how innovation comes from the most unexpected places. Not happy with mainstream search’s answer to video? Try for a deeper video search experience. Butler not talking back the way you want him to? Head over to Got the click fraud blues? Try searching with Idealab’s

If you liked cost per click search advertising, you’ll love cost per acquisition search advertising. Yes ladies and germs, from the people who brought you GoTo.Com (later Overture and later still Yahoo! Search Marketing) comes a search engine that makes performance based search ads well, a snap.

Think you have been here before? Sure, cost per (insert desired site activity here) models are nothing new. But Snap has quite a few little twists that add up to a whole lot of innovation. Let’s take a look under the hood of the search beta that has people talking.

Search, Crackle, Pop!

The first thing you notice when performing a search on Snap is the dynamic refinement of your query as you type. Thanks to third party search query data dialed into a smart interface, searching becomes easier as you query is guided into the most popular direction. Of course, one could argue this is a bit restrictive, but the obvious intention is to eliminate unwanted results.

Snap relies on a variety of search technologies for its bells and whistles. A weekly feed purchased from an independent research firm shows the number of searches. Listing data is provided by the combined resources of Gigablast and LookSmart. News results are provided by Moreover Technologies. Another surprise comes from Idealab’s X1 Technologies. The same technology Yahoo! uses for its Desktop search lives inside Snap.

Snap offers a toolbar as well, but probably the most interesting aspect of the Snap experience is the product search. A search for “iPod” delivers an interactive multiple source grid. Searchers can refine results within the grid on the fly while getting product and purchase point information.

I know what you’re thinking, where do I sign up? Hold that thought for a moment, because you really have to see the ranking methodology.

A new way to rank

Snap is taking user selection to the next level. While paid results on the majors are currently self-regulated by click activity -- either with minimum click through rates, click popularity or a combination of both -- Snap uses actual conversion or desired activity information to help rank results. In other words, simply clicking into a site just won’t do it: the searcher has to buy something in order to climb the ranks.

Of course, the click to buy relationship is a bit dicey. Users often visit multiple sites before reaching a purchase point and it would seem a little flexibility is in order. “One of our goals is to be more transparent with both users and advertisers,” says Scott McCollister, Snap’s Senior Product Manager. “Until very recently, we were displaying conversion rates for advertisers as well, but we had to remove them because users were confused about the terminology.”

All the transparency in the world won’t help an advertiser if the measurement dynamics aren’t there. While the term “conversion rate” might be pretty self explanatory to you and me, this situation proves there’s still some work to be done in educating advertisers on a larger scale.

The buy in

Snap currently offers two different ways to get into search cost per action. The first is a fixed model that works exactly as it sounds: one price for all conversions. The second is variable in which revenue is achieved as a percentage of sales. This allows for a bit more flexibility to accommodate the needs of multiple product lines with varying margins.

While Snap’s advertiser system is still in beta, several enhancements are scheduled for release later this summer. There’s a dashboard reporting interface in the works, along with a feature that allows advertisers to reject specific conversions that don’t jive with sale or desired action data.

“The interface will look something like an interactive phone bill in which advertisers can review their conversions (including time of event, product ID, product price, et cetera) and reject any that are not valid,” reports McCollister. “Likely reasons for rejecting conversions would be test or mocked fake conversions. Again, any advertiser that chooses to reject valid conversions will see their ranking drop appropriately.”

Kind of makes the click fraud discussion disappear, doesn’t it?

Keep breaking the rules

As Snap moves out of Beta, they are promising some pretty sharp enhancements to their user and advertiser functionality. Along with the smart executive dashboard, shopping engine components from will be integrated. Verticals are all the rage in search, and Snap plans to charge into these areas as well. The model looks like a winner, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to break into the search budgets.

Introducing new search technologies in today’s search advertising economy takes guts. I like that. The industry is worth billions. Search intermediaries have invested equal amounts of money and sweat in building administrative tools to help make sense of it all, so coming in with new ideas while initiating a paradigm shift is not for the faint of heart.

Each time you want to do something new or circumstance dictates a break-the-mold situation, there will be hordes of nay-sayers lining up to tell you it’s not the right fit. Well, I'm here to tell you that fitting into the mold is easy, and sometimes outside blood is exactly what you need to raise the bar.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations.

Kevin Ryan is the principal of Kinetic Results, Inc. a New York based online presence management firm.

Meet Kevin Ryan at AD:TECH Chicago, July 11, 2005.