New search engine offers visual preview, takes on top guns

A new search engine – recently released in beta format – will provide stiff competition to top dogs such as Google and Yahoo, its creators suggest.

MelZoo.com transforms the look of the typical search page to appeal to pay-per-click advertisers.  

The global search engine company is headquartered in Brussels and has offices in India and Israel.

Its new search engine has a unique interface that lists search results on the left side of the page, and displays previews of the Web page corresponding to each search result on the right side.

When users place the mouse over a search result URL, an image of that Web site appears on the right side of the page, in real-time.

“For years people have been using text-only search engines but people are visual-based thinkers, not text-based,” said MelZoo CEO Alex De Backer. “The visual preview will improve productivity and accuracy.”

The design seeks to improve the speed of the search process by saving searchers the time and effort of clicking back and forth between Web site listings and the search engine.  

Users no longer click on unusable search results, and don’t need to open multiple tabs and pages. This also increases page load speed, De Backer said. 

The preview, he said, enables users to search for the page they want in a single location, and avoid “zigging and zagging” from sites to results.

The company believes the visual preview function will transform the search engine industry, leaving competitors’ engines “in the stone ages.”

The major benefit to advertisers is free Web site previewing. Actual clicks, not previews, will be charged as click-per-cost advertising.

“Traditionally advertisers pay search companies for every user who clicks on their site, even if that user doesn’t like what he or she sees and leaves immediately,” De Backer said.

He said the live preview will boost the conversion rate five fold, “providing a higher ROI to the advertiser.”

There’s been a lot of interest from advertisers in the short time they’ve been testing their site, the MelZoo.com chief said. Prior to the launch of the beta version, the site had 1,100 persons interested in purchasing pay-per-click advertising on the site.

“I think the interest shows we really have something quite remarkable  that will change pay-per-click marketing.”

De Backer does not have official numbers on site traffic so far, but says the goal is a couple million hits each day by official launch date.

There’s been a lot of buzz in the social media world since the site’s launch last week, with blogs and tweets applauding the unique split-screen design and high-speed results generation.

The site provides users with “much more relevant, quality information”, according to blogger Charles S. Knight, who tried the beta version.

At least one industry insider says the split screen is certainly a “very nice feature”, which in theory could improve conversion rates for advertisers.

But the site isn’t likely to get big enough traffic volumes to make marketers want to shift serious advertising dollars to it from behemoths such as Google or Yahoo, according to Larry Stopa, president of e-Power Marketing, a search engine marketing firm in Oshkosh Wisconsin.

“There’s so much name recognition for the other search engines, and searchers are resilient to change, so it would certainly be a tall hurdle.”

A Canadian expert echoes Stopa’s skepticism, and suggests the visual preview isn’t necessarily such a hot feature.

“Users are not patient, they just like to click – they’re not interested in looking at a results page that looks like their e-mail Inbox,” says Justin Jung, founder of SEM Expertise, a Toronto-based company that improves Web site traffic to many Canadian financial institutions.

The evidence he provides for his argument comes from the character limits offered to advertisers in Web page descriptions on search results pages.

Yahoo used to limit advertisers to 250 characters when describing the Web page for search results, whereas Google’s limit has always been 70. Recently, however, Yahoo reduced their character limit – finding that people don’t really read the descriptions anyway.

“From my experience, users just look at the title and judge whether it’s worthwhile from there – they don’t want to read through anymore info,” Jung said. “I don’t think MelZoo understands that trend in search engine marketing.”

Another problem he points to is that even if users did want to read more information before clicking, searchers won’t be attracted to the site unless the algorithm is better than competitor’s.  

Google’s main advantage, he says, is that it concentrates on its search algorithm first. This makes Google much more user-focused than advertiser-focused, he said, noting that while the look of the interface is important, it’s not the most important factor.

And if the visual preview does take off, it wouldn’t be difficult or expensive for other search engines to copy.

“When you take good care of the user, you also take good care of the advertiser – that’s what MelZoo has to remember. And that’s why Yahoo hasn’t been as successful,” he says. “Yahoo has a much nicer interface than Google’s, which is quite simple, but their algorithm isn’t as efficient as Google’s.

The preview may be helpful for luring advertisers, but advertisers won’t invest unless the traffic numbers are high, he said. And advertisers will also want an analytics portfolio with pay-per-click fees to help them better understand where their traffic is coming from and how to better invest their money. 

Still in their testing phase, MelZoo has not released an analytics strategy or developed their ad platform for advertisers.

De Backer says they are open to suggestions, are currently researching the best possibilities, and trying to attain a top global team through Wikinomics.

For now they are trying to increase their traffic through viral marketing, social networking and traditional marketing strategies.

Mobile browsing is one growth area the site can take advantage of, according to Tony Olvet, vice-president of communications practice at analyst firm IDC Canada in Toronto.

With mobile browsing on the rise and challenges users have with the current crop of Web browsers – there could be an opportunity for them to fit their search engine into a mobile-friendly format.

Discovering a niche market could also help improve conversion rates in that sector, he said.

There will always be a small market available for advertisers who want to try something new, Olvet said. “Marketers are innovators will be willing to experiment, but the site will have to target a niche market to succeed, because stealing even a tiny fraction of the top three search engines’ user-base is an almost insurmountable [task].”

The audience matters for marketers when deciding where and how to invest, notes Mike Volpe, vice-president of Internet marketing firm, HubSpot at Cambridge, Mass.

Volpe says for a business-to-business software company, Google provides a much better target audience than Yahoo or MSN.

He says right now he wouldn’t bother setting up a campaign on MelZoo because of low traffic, but if the company could figure out who their audience is – it could become an innovative marketing tool for a specific sector or industry.

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