Visual Search Engine SearchMe Moves Ad Platform Out Of Beta

SearchMe, the search engine startup which presents search results as a stack of full-page previews that you can flip through, is bringing its ad network out of beta. The SearchMe ad platform, which was originally named AdView when it launched in February, is the visual search engine’s version of AdWords, except that instead of selling paid text links, it intersperses ads into results of clickable previews of entire webpages, videos, or other visual advertising.

SearchMe’s advertising is appealing because the website becomes the ad itself, making the ad larger and more visually stimulating. So if you search for “Volvo” on SearchMe and if you flip through to the third result, it will be an ad that shows a landing page for Volvo’s latest models. Ad units can also be a YouTube video which can be played without leaving SearchMe. As we wrote in our previous review, SearchMe’s approach is similar to what StumbleUpon does, with ads placed in every 20 or so Stumbles.

During the beta period, SearchMe let 600 advertisers experiment with the network, with 50 of the participants being big-name brands, including Campbell’s and Volvo. SearchMe’s CEO and co-founder Randy Adams says that CPCs are $0.25 for the advertisers. And click through rates are high—at around 8%.

While visually appealing landing pages could be a potentially effective form of advertising, there needs to be enough unique visits for the advertising to be valuable in the long term. In February, SearchMe had about 3 million monthly visitors in the U.S, according to Quantcast. In April, the site had grown to 4 million monthly visitors. But in May, the number of U.S. visitors plummeted to around 750,000 visitors in the U.S.

SearchMe says that this drop in numbers is due to the fact that the search engine was spending $500,000 a month in advertising and driving a lot of traffic to the site. The startup is now spending little to no capital on advertising and is in the process of closing distribution deals to place the search bar in browsers and toolbars.

SearchMe maintains that advertisers responded positively to the network and type of ads, and especially the click through rates. And the startup also says it’s not in competition with search engines like Bing and Google, who have the lions share of search traffic. Instead they are out to compete with other visual search engines like Middlespot, Viewzi and Snap.

Sequoia-backed SearchMe originally launched the private beta of its search engine in 2008 and to date has raised $43.6 million in funding.