On May 24th, Yahoo! announced its new light-weight browser, Axis. Axis is a plug-in to desktop browsers and a stand-alone app on mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. It’s only available in the U.S. and is still in development for Android devices. Axis combines searching and browsing. It populates instant answers and highly-visual previews as searchers type. On mobile devices, Axis’s visual experience has received rave reviews; CNET wrote, “On the iPad, Axis is simply a great browser. The integrated search feature is intuitive, and being able to move through search results without having to go back to search makes sense”:
Also of note, Axis enables users to integrate content—like search history and preferences—across their desktops, tablets and smartphones:
Yahoo! told MediaPost that Axis’s primary market is urban eighteen to thirty-five year olds who own all three devices.
POTENTIAL IMPLICATIONS for ADVERTISERS
Currently, Axis doesn’t include paid search or display advertising. The visual search results are all organic, and Yahoo! is focused on user adoption before rolling out ads. Additionally, Axis is mobile-focused, and Yahoo! currently doesn’t have a large mobile search share (Google’s browser-based mobile search share was ninety-seven percent in February 2012, according to StatCounter). New advertising opportunities—and the efforts that advertisers put into Axis—will ultimately depend on whether people adopt Axis, especially on mobile.
In the short term, brands that utilize SEO best practices for visual search are most likely to succeed on Axis. Because searchers can preview pages before they click, a clearly-structured, eye-catching landing page is more likely to entice users. Most importantly—because Axis is geared towards mobile—brands must have mobile-optimized websites! A preview for a mobile-optimized site is much more enticing than a preview for a non-optimized site. Visual SEO best practices include:
- Build a mobile-optimized site to maximize mobile preview aesthetics
- Clearly structure landing page content. Eliminate extraneous content that could make the page look unappealing in the preview.
- Include eye-catching images and/or video on landing pages
- Leverage landing page optimization (LPO) to test which images, video or copy are most effective in driving clicks from the Axis preview
- Highlight key messages in legible text that can be easily read in the Axis preview, especially on smartphones and tablets
- Avoid Flash or other rich content that won’t be visible in Axis, especially on iPads
- Test! See how your site looks in the Axis preview on all devices.
If Yahoo! succeeds in driving large-scale Axis adoption, advertisers could realize powerful paid search and display advertising opportunities. After Axis builds a user base, Yahoo! plans to incorporate paid search/display ads, as well as cross-platform (desktop, tablet, smartphone) targeting capabilities.
Visually-Enhanced Paid Search
When Axis incorporates paid search, sponsored listings will be very visual. Optimization techniques will center less on testing/revising ad copy and more on creating engaging image and video ads. There are a number of possible paid search formats that Axis could incorporate. For instance, Yahoo! could decide to use an image of the brand’s landing page as the paid search ad, much like Axis currently does with organic listings. Or, Yahoo! could integrate display or video ads within the Axis search box. Yahoo! could also populate brand logos, product images or coupons as searchers type. And Yahoo! could even enable advertisers to build rich, dynamic applications within the Axis search box, like a fit-guide app for users who search for “jeans.”
Whatever format Axis paid advertising takes, it will undoubtedly be highly visual (and geared particularly towards tablet users, who want this visualize experience). Axis falls squarely within the trend of search becoming more than just a direct-response channel; search is now a branding channel where advertisers can leverage all their assets—text, image, video, social—into a rich, customized and connected brand experience.
Retargeting and Attribution—Across Devices
Advertisers already have the ability to retarget Yahoo! searchers with display ads on Yahoo!’s network. But Axis could take this ability across devices. Axis users are able to connect their search and browsing experience from desktop, to tablet, to smartphone. Thus, Yahoo! could rely on this connection to retarget people across devices. Ethan Batraski, Yahoo! Search’s Director of Product Management, told AdExchanger, “[Users are] reachable within all three devices. We can have a conversation with them across all three devices.”
Furthermore, because Axis is a browser, Yahoo! could (but isn’t yet) collect more data on users to benefit both those users and advertisers. Batraski remarked, “With Axis, because of the experience of the browser, I can target on a number of things. I can see what your search history is [and] what you’re browsing history is.” Thus, advertisers could potentially create participant profiles based on search and browsing history. They could then engage particular profiles across devices. Of course, this depends on user comfort from a privacy standpoint, and Batraski vowed to let users know exactly what data Yahoo! would collect and how it would use that data (as well as to provide users the ability to opt-out).
Axis’s cross-device connections could also provide advertisers with additional data for attribution. By following users across devices, Axis could show something we’ve seen for our clients—that searchers aren’t abandoning their desktops in favor of mobile; they’re just always connected. They search on their PCs at work, smartphones while commuting and tablets at night in front of the TV. Such insights inform cross-device budgeting and allocation strategies.
Yahoo!’s Axis has the potential to change the paid search advertising landscape, especially on tablets. However, Yahoo! must first drive user adoption. In the meantime, brands should focus on mobile SEO best practices with emphasis on creating and optimizing visual content.