Search has gone social, offering buyers a new source of performance-based advertising.
It's been local. It's been vertical. Now search has gone social. A new search engine with a cheerful little name only launched in September, but already ChaCha Search ("cha" means "search" in Chinese) is being dubbed David to Google's Goliath and is generating plenty of attention with its people-powered approach to search.
If you haven't yet given the site a try, you're in for some fun. At first blush, ChaCha seems like the unlikely union of a traditional search engine, an instant messenger program, and guide-driven mainstay About.com. Like About, it uses human guides to deliver relevant, subject-specific information. The difference is ChaCha's guides, of which there are thousands stationed across the country, deliver search results customized to each site user's specific needs. By adding a human element to an inherently technological service, ChaCha is intended to help save users the time and effort it takes to sift through thousands of results.
Here's how it works: Each searcher is assigned a guide to communicate with through an online chat program. The guide asks questions about the query's nature, searches numerous engines at record speed, and returns results as she finds them. Sometimes, she'll request more information to further customize her search. When the user is satisfied with the results, ChaCha encourages him to rate the guide so it can gauge its staff's quality and the user's experience.
Antisocial types can independently search ChaCha's engine of human-indexed results. But this doesn't have nearly the personal quality of the Search With Guide option.
Search model aside, ChaCha differentiates itself from other engines with its advertising products. Advertisers can purchase CPC (define) links similar in appearance to what you'd get on Google or Yahoo. The difference is the ads aren't targeted by keyword but by subject category. When a guided search begins, the guide immediately categorizes it based on the subject matter. That information is then used to deliver subject-targeted ads.
Text advertisers can select from among 100 subcategories through ChaCha's AdAgent bid management program to match their ads to the most appropriate search content.
ChaCha has also begun offering display ads, including 300 x 250 rich media pre-roll video units. These are also targeted by subject category and appear to searchers while they're waiting for a guide to return their customized results. According to David Gilby, ChaCha's VP of ad strategy, the average time of a guided search is three to five minutes. That's three to five minutes of access to a captive audience of consumers interested in a subject related to your product.
There are additional benefits media buyers are sure to appreciate as well. Because search results are provided by human guides who are instructed never to return inappropriate results, advertisers needn't worry about their ads being associated with negative content. The same can't always be said for ad network or contextual advertising buys, which have on occasion aligned an advertiser with undesirable site content from mildly inconvenient to utterly appalling results.
Additionally, ChaCha search result pages are completely uncluttered, at least for the moment. "We plan to keep it as clean as possible, with one display ad per page on live searches," Gilby says.
If you're interested in adding a ChaCha test to your current paid search advertising efforts, do it now. Because the engine's so new, Gilby says pricing is still relatively low, and ads conform to Google and Yahoo character standards, so existing ad copy can be used to facilitate a quick and easy campaign setup.
Display advertisers can purchase ads on a CPM (define) basis directly through Gilby. Though the method used to target them may be difficult to classify (is it behavioral targeting, contextual advertising, or a little of both?), the advertiser ends up with a video ad tied to a relevant search and an undistracted consumer to watch it.
I don't know if ChaCha has what it takes to take on an engine like Google. It hardly matters. From a media buying point of view, it offers a new source of performance-based advertising and has the combination of search and rich media banners many of us have been waiting for.
Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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