Yahoo!, of directory and webmail fame, have just launched an intriguing new tool that they claim “redefines what it means to search and browse the Web”. It is called Axis, and while it is certainly interesting, whether it will change the face of search is unclear.
The software makes search results much more visual, by doing away with the traditional results page and replacing it with a string of website thumbnails. I can certainly see the appeal. While I’d never really thought about it before, having a list of text when you enter a search is pretty dull. Google tried to counter this in their search results by introducing their preview feature in 2010, but the basic list format remains; the previews only appear if you happen to click on them. With Axis, however, the images are the search. That is a neat idea.
The tool is available as a stand-alone application on iPhone and iPad, and an extension for the top four browsers on desktop: Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari. The desktop version creates a new search bar in the bottom left of the screen, which opens up when you type in a search. Scrolling uses a motion that probably works very well on a mobile device, and the whole thing loads quickly and smoothly. The downside is that the desktop version is an add-on. To work at its best, this really needs to be a stand-alone browser. There is a good chance, though, that Yahoo!’s marketing plan is to introduce a wide range of users to the idea of visual search, and then release a stand-alone product later.
Although Axis will take some time to get used to, it is possible that it will take off. With the growing popularity of image-centric websites like Pinterest, people are going to take notice of a product that takes the text out of search. The chances of everyone abandoning Google overnight are slim, but if Axis does become widely used, even if only on mobile devices, there could be some implications for how people market their websites.
The first issue is that poorly designed, unattractive websites will not get many clicks. Whereas with text search people only see a website when they have already committed to clicking on it, visual search means that bad design can scare customers away before they even arrive. Flash websites don’t seem to work at all, so having a beautiful Flash site might be a serious disadvantage. If a website can’t be loaded properly in Axis, you just get an ugly grey box with some text in it.
It would also mean that webpage titles are more important and meta-descriptions less so. While both of these are displayed in conventional search results, only the thumbnail and title are displayed by Axis. This makes it even more important to have meaningful titles that tell the reader something about the site (as well as containing keywords for SEO purposes). Banners and headers will also be important, as they will likely be the only readable part of your site when it is reduced to a thumbnail.
Of course, whether Axis turns out to be a success remains to be seen. Perhaps this will be the product that reverses Yahoo!’s fortunes and restores their position as one of the dominant brands of the internet. Perhaps not. All we can do is look on with interest.
For help optimising your website for search engines, or for help with web design, get in touch with us at KPI. Our SEO experts will be happy to help.