IdeaLab's, is a unique search engine in more ways than one. And it's like a breath of fresh air compared to the behemoth blue-lined SERPs.

While it launched over a year ago, Snap is still in its early days. And it looks like entrepreneur Bill Gross has done it again. Bill is the guy who started (formerly Overture, currently Yahoo Search Marketing). After going public, he sold it in 2003 for $1.63 billion to Yahoo.

Bill Gross is responsible for starting the pay-per-click revolution that changed the way commercial advertising works on the Internet today. Bill's mission has always been to help users find things faster. He provided the Business Plan for Google's phenomenal success before either of them even knew it!

Bill's latest killer app is Snap Dotcom. I ran into Snap the other day when a co-worker blogged about its unique features. Being a search engine buff, I checked it out and must say I was pleasantly surprised. As I went deeper, my jaw opened wider. No way -- this is sweet!

Following are a few of Snap's unique features. Warning -- this is no place for dial-ups.

Ease of Use: Snap is different because it gives you a quick visual display of results. Snap's web application presents search results in two columns. The left side lists the familiar text summary of each site, and the right side displays a partial screen shot of the actual web page corresponding to each entry. The user can scroll through the list of numbered results using the up and down arrow keys (like surfing channels with a television remote) to quickly see each search result. In addition to site previews, users can directly interact with the sites returned in the search results list without ever needing to leave the search engine.

Relevance: Snap delivers its search results from in-house algos, which have layered in behavioral data. This allows Snap to tap into the wisdom of the crowd rather than strictly using the machine to score the relevance of web pages.

Snap narrows down your list of search results as you type in the first letter of a word or a domain. It uses licensed data feeds from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sort results based on data culled from other searchers' use of a particular site after performing the same search. This makes Snap one of the first search engines to gather and infer data on user intention based on previous search queries.

Post Click Data: Snap's licensed ISP data identifies where people find success versus a dead end. Think about users at a major search engine: they click on the first link and often look at it, read it, process it, then wait to load. After about 200-300 milliseconds, they typically navigate back to the results page. Most advertiser sites barely survive this experience. White-hat SEOs with good intentions set up for delivering users with multiple page views. Users go into SSL mode, download a PDF, etc., but the search engine won't tell the client or the SEO if the click stream data leads to a dead end alley. However, with Snap, the CPA advertiser will have the post click behavioral information.

Analysis of post click behavior to improve results is where the rubber meets the road. Knowing that a user actually consummated a transaction is golden.

Blending Organic and Paid: Snap is radically different from other search engines by combining paid (sponsored) and unpaid results into one simple list that is sorted based on user satisfaction. Most SERPs separate these links; however, the Pew study (PEW Internet & American Life Project 2005) revealed that 62 percent of searchers are not aware of the distinction between paid and unpaid results. Snap includes its sponsored results within its organic results, identified as such in orange text. Some have poo-pooed this tactic, saying it's not in the best interest of the public. I say BS -- look at any newspaper or magazine. You've got paid and unpaid in your face 24/7.

Snap's configuration is based on user satisfaction. For instance, a commercial search will bring-up sponsored results in the mix, whereas a research-related search retrieves no sponsored results. Snap matches your intentions to the results it produces. Its goal is not to maximize revenue per pixel, but rather through a consumer satisfaction approach to relevance.

Graphical Results: Another major difference in Snap is the rapid previewing of web sites. For advertisers, this means users go far beyond the typical search ad of a Title and 70 characters of Description. You actually get to show your landing page to the user. Cost-Per-Action (CPA) Business Model: Snap's unique model allows advertisers to guarantee that their marketing expenditures are cost-effective. Snap's CPA system only charges advertisers when the user actually follows through and purchases an item, fills out a form, makes a donation, or performs whatever criterion the advertiser establishes for the campaign.

The system is based on a conversion rate quality score, and it is self-policing. Advertisers report their conversions via a beacon on their site. For those of you who work with affiliate networks such as Linkshare or Commission Junction, this is straightforward. A small snippet of code is placed on the conversion page (such as a thank you page), which reports back when a user coming from Snap converts. Snap then determines the conversion rate by keyword and uses that information to optimize the relevance for its users. Snap's minimum fixed bid-per-action is currently $1.00 per action; the variable bid-per-action cost is 5.0 percent minimum per sale. Fixed and Variable CPA are further explained here.

The beauty of CPA is that it aligns the search engine with the advertiser. Snap CEO Tom McGovern said, "We believe this will be embraced by other engines eventually… as it is not fraudable like Cost Per Click is -- advertisers only pay for real business."

Snap currently reaches over one million users, and with the above unique features, I see a bright future. They've crawled and indexed over two billion documents. Their model is not in competition with Google; they simply want to build a base of searchers who seek an alternative to the sameness provided by the search products of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Coupled with its advertising model, Snap creates an interesting alternative for users and advertisers alike.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

November 17, 2006

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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