Paid Search Just Got Visual: SearchMe Launches AdView Beta (Free Ads For First 500 Signups)

What happens when you make paid search ads both relevant and visual? Searchme, the search engine startup which presents results as a stack of full-page previews that you can flip through, is hoping to find out with the beta launch of AdView. Its first foray into advertising, AdView is SearchMe’s version of AdWords, except that instead of selling of paid text links it will be interspersing into its results clickable previews of entire Webpages, videos, or other visual advertising.

If you are an advertiser and want to try it out, SearchMe is giving a free trial to the first 500 companies or individuals that sign up here. That’s right, you get to run a free ad campaign on SearchMe for 30 days.

To see how this works, search for “Ralph Lauren” and if you flip through to the third result, it will be an ad that shows a landing page for its fall collection. In other words, the Website becomes the ad itself. This approach is similar to what StumbleUpon does, with ads placed in every 20 or so Stumbles. But the ad unit can also be a YouTube video which can be played without leaving SearchMe. For instance, check out the third result when you search for “Mac” (SearchMe inserted one of the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads for demonstration purposes).

This could potentially be a very effective form of advertising. It is almost like a magazine ad where the ad is a Website. Advertisers who create visually appealing landing pages I suspect will do better. And it is also a potentially powerful way to target video ads, combining keyword targeting with a TV-like viewing experience. (Check out SearchMe’s own video commercial embedded below, which it plans to run as a TV spot)

SearchMe is not huge by any means, but it provides a nice sandbox to experiment with new types of advertising. Quantcast shows some decent growth over the past six months to about 3 million visitors in the U.S. That is certainly large enough to test the ROI for visual paid search. And its organic growth suggests that the idea could catch on. Certainly, it doesn’t hurt that Apple is training consumers to become comfortbale with the page-flipping metaphor. One of the key features of its just-released version of the Safari browser is a similar Coverflow-like treatment of bookmarked pages and browsing history.