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Visual Site Optimization (VSO)

Dear Google, after finding this new search tool, I have found you to be boring. You may have more results, more money, fancy offices with armed security and jars of jelly beans, lots of media attention and the ability to run most everything in our lives, but you’re just not as shiny and sexy.

I recently discovered and for my basic searches, I will be using their services over yours. Also, I don’t have to deal with ugly ads, irrelevant search results or a snooty attitude. is super fast, very very very aesthetically pleasing and it feels like using the iPhone but with a mouse. Here’s an image tour of the search I just performed about the most important topic ever… me:

According to, “Searchme lets you see what you’re searching for. As you start typing, categories appear that relate to your query. Choose a category, and you’ll see pictures of web pages that answer your search. You can review these pages quickly to find just the information you’re looking for, before you click through.

Why This is Urgently Important

Enough silly talk, this actually is really important. Think about this: we’ve talked before about the importance of aesthetics on your site not only for reader retention but for RSS marketing. Also, we’ve talked about Trulia’s new visuals-first-info-last Snapshots search option. Put all these past articles together and you see a theme emerging- the searching environment is changing and user preferences are being taken into account. IF this is the wave of the future (forgive my cliche, but it totally applies), then aesthetics are crucial.

Will You Get Clicked??

With a visual search, there is a big difference between being found and being clicked. SEO is what will get your site found but being visually appealing is what might get you clicked (if people can move past the fun of flicking through screenshots of websites). Take a minute and think about how your website stacks up against others- would you click through on a thumbnail of your site? Is your blog formatted to be visually stimulating or do you have a wall of words? Are your single property websites up to par or are they templated and won’t stand out against others like it? I predict that this time next year, we will be focused on more than SEO to get our sites discovered, we’ll also be focused on what we’ve decided to call Visual Site Optimization (VSO).

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Bill Lublin

    June 20, 2008 at 5:05 am

    Lani You have the best toys – The visual impact of this search mechanism is unassailable, and when I searche myself it was surprising in comparison with Google. I wonder what the impact of the amount of photos and text bring to the SEO process in this venue however. For example , oddly enough the majority of pictures of you look blonde, but tan – strange huh?

  2. jay

    June 20, 2008 at 5:26 am

    I tried this in beta awhile ago. I loved how you could select a category after results were to help get rid of the stuff you had no interest in but had come up in the results due to being similar in keywords or overlapping somehow. But I found after narrowing that the results were atrocious–websites with no depth or info being ranked far higher than those who merited the top rankings….

    If they can figure out how to rank the best and most useful sights at top that help the consumer/searcher combined with their option to select a category after the initial search they will have an incredible product. Until then it is cool but not accurate.


  3. John Lauber

    June 20, 2008 at 5:32 am

    That’s a cool search site. Sort of like PicLens for search. I like the term VSO, but I think this concept has just been lost of late. It should be something we are thinking about as we create blogs, websites, etc. anyway. How will it look? Right? Searching this way makes it a higher priority than it may have been recently, with many articles being written about content, content, content, but not much being written about the look. I think that’s because it’s so easy to find a WordPress theme or HTML template and just use it. We find one we like and just use it because WE like it, but without thought to how will our audience like it. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Mack in Atlanta

    June 20, 2008 at 6:40 am

    We have all heard the importance of adding pictures to our listings. Buyers will skip over the ones without photos and will pay little attention if there are not multiple photos. How many times have we heard a picture is worth a thousand words? Recently I heard an interesting spin on that phase, “A picture is worth a thousand dollars”. For those of us who make a substantial portion of our income from leads generated from our sites we must make certain that we have visually optimized it. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Norm Fisher

    June 20, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Love the search engine. It’s great to get that quick peek at the sites and it seems fairly smart as well.

  6. NikNik

    June 20, 2008 at 8:09 am

    VSO-sounds like a “take your blog to the next level” strategy to me! Whether its your re blog or your sps sites…visual presentation is key! Not only having all the parts (pictures, details, video, community info, etc) is important…but its how you lay it out and make it accessible to readers. And when it comes to accessing past blog articles, a visual search would highlight the content nicely. Now, if we can get peeps to wrap their brains around pics rather than words. 🙂 Nice post…you has creative!

  7. Sonny Gill

    June 20, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Nice post, Lani! I’ve always been a stickler for great design and form for any website. Personally I’m trying to adopt my web design ‘prowess’ to a new redesign of my blog. It definitely is becoming more than just content. You have a short amount of time to grab someones attention to your site, how are you going to do that other than content? Look fwd to see how sites begin to adjust visually to this new trend.

  8. Paul Chaney

    June 20, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Yes, to respond to your twit, this is definitely a post I’m interested in. Lani, you’ve got my wheels churning and my brain trying to wrap itself around this whole new way to do search.

    Design does become much more paramount, because you only get one chance to make a good first impression. That doesn’t negate the need for great content, because you also only get one chance to make a good second impression.

    BTW, another site that utilizes visual search is Viewzi. It’s just another example that the trend in search is changing. I bet Google is paying attention.

  9. Greg Cremia

    June 20, 2008 at 8:30 am

    You are right that getting found is not as important as getting clicked on. But getting clicked on is way to easy with the surfer attitude of the internet user. Click, click, click down the line starting at the top until they find what they are looking for. Getting clicked on doesn’t really matter if they don’t hang around.

    Potential clients are looking for meaty relevant content (listings) and when they find it they hang around. Pretty fluff might get you a lot of clicks but will it get you results?

  10. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    June 20, 2008 at 8:46 am


    With a visual search, there is a big difference between being found and being clicked. SEO is what will get your site found but being visually appealing is what might get you clicked

    SEO is still crucial but if visual search is the emerging search of preference, people will be naturally inclined to click on the prettiest option. Content is still king, but aesthetics are what will get people TO the content, thus VSO will become more important over time. Fluff won’t work because fluff won’t even get a site TO the visual search options. is a great example of a visually stimulating site with killer content.

  11. Michael Price

    June 20, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Results with relevance are what matters. The visual options are important and will certainly enhance the experience. Technology like Google’s Universal Search are more important to me. I want to see more than just web sites. Give me the podcasts, videos, .pdfs, .doc files and more and make sure it’s spot on.

    Once the results are right, then I would like to see it packaged into a better interface.

    If you want to see a much better example of “Visual Search” Check out Viewzi. It’s another visual search site in beta that will blow your mind. What’s really interesting about Viewzi is the true Web 2.0 aspect of the service. Users will be able to create customized search views that will add even more relevance to results. I’ve been waiting on referral code to see if I can get an invitation to test the private beta. As soon as I get a chance to test it out, I’ll come back and give a full review right here on AG. Go check it out and let me know what you think of it compared to SearchMe.Com

  12. Michael Price

    June 20, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Update. I have my account established. Look for a post over the weekend.

  13. Benn Rosales

    June 20, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Michael, trends by consumers are what we’re talking about here, of course content will absolutely count and as Lani said, seo is what will get you ranked in the first place.

    But lets examine this on an equal playing field for a second. Two sites, equally valuable in content, but who will get clicked first, and is there now even a reason to resume search one you’ve landed on sexy site #1. It’s no longer competing for just the best title or quote in the result.

    Consumer trends are what matter, not what us in the know might think of the trends. If search trends this way, and can really establish itself as a viable alternative, I’m guessing consumers are going to go for the pictures every time- we’re all to busy to read.

    The cool thing about Lani is that her habits and trends are regardless of any bias. She is a consumer which is what makes her input to valuable- she’s demonstrating what her and my daughter experimented with for well over 1.5 hours and our 11 yo was absolutely mesmerized.

    VSO is worth adding to consideration I think.

  14. Elaine Reese

    June 20, 2008 at 10:10 am

    WOW, I just checked out my name, and that is one cool search engine.

    The pros are that I can ‘see’ what the pages look like and whether it seems to offer the type of info that I want. Plus, I can do this without worrying whether the page is going to put any harmful cookies on my computer or whether I’ll have to deal with unwelcome pop-ups. It will also give a visual way to sort through what is just splogs since they’re so easy to identify with all their Google ads.

    The downside will be if a search brings up any “undesirable” pages that perhaps people don’t care to view. This could be a problem for parents since some photos are there with full view – if you get my drift. It would seem they will need to provide a way for people to check a box to NOT have those type of pages come up in a search. You just know that if these type of searches become the norm, that less reputable sites are going add sexy photos to their sites to increase their traffic.

  15. Carson Coots

    June 20, 2008 at 11:44 am

    A Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab Study found that consumers tended to rely heavily on overall visual design when assessing Web sites, including layout, typography and color schemes. About 54.6% of the comments by the consumers regarding financial sites referred to design look, which relates to the visual appeal of a site’s design, compared to only 16.4 percent of finance expert comments on this topic.

    “The data showed that the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. For example, nearly half of all consumers (or 46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes.”


    FULL report:

  16. Ines

    June 20, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    WOW – talk about pushing my visual buttons in just the right spot! For those of us who are visual, it’s cool, I do wonder how non-visuals feel about it – I tried my name and clicked on a couple of searches and didn’t quite go where it had to……so quinks it has! but as everything, I’m sure they’re working on it.

    Thanks for the toy – love it!

  17. Greg Cremia

    June 20, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    The people in the study were just analyzing the websites without any other goal than to answer survey questions. They were not looking for a website to accomplish a particular task.

    People looking to make a major investment such as a house tend to dig a little deeper than font, color and layout to determine trust. If I were selling trinkets where very little trust is required before a purchase is made then all of this might make sense. Selling houses is another story.

    I tried searchme for some air filters that I will be buying over the net and the screen shots of the websites searchme provided offered me no more help than the blurbs on google and I have a larger than normal screen. There actually were sites that might have what I wanted but the pictures were of different products than my search so those sites might get skipped but probably not as I need these filters and want to get the best deal, so I will read through them just the same.

    The end result on both search engines is I will start by clicking on the first result and read my way through the sites down the line until I find a vendor that satisfies my needs. Typically It takes 2 or 3 sites offering the same thing for me to compare value.

    When my site was on page three I got leads. When my site was on page two I got leads. Why? Because consumers didn’t find what they were looking right away and just kept clicking through until they found a site that provided what they were looking for. My site is nothing special but it works for some and not for others. Most likely people are using multiple sites to accomplish a goal. I know I do.

    While a “sexy” site might initially catch their eye, it is too easy to hit the back button and try out the rest of the sites to see if there is a better fit. There is a reason why they call it surfing.

  18. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    June 20, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Greg, I see what you’re saying and I totally agree. You can be pretty all you want but if you’re not what consumers are seeking, you’ll get clicked on then clicked right off (so content is still the number one traffic driver). That said, my overall point remains that with visual search coming to the forefront as a *trend*, the day of SEO manipulating and walls of words and crappy clip art will have to adapt to a more aesthetically pleasing format.

  19. Benn Rosales

    June 20, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Greg, don’t tell people the secret of page two 😉 haha

  20. My goodness . . . I can feel the dendrites spreading rapidly. That’s a way cool search tool. I get the feeling this is just scraping the surface, but I KNOW how important the visuals are. They are on to something.

  21. Paula Henry

    June 20, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    I just want to know the secret to page two:) Actually – I like the visual appeal. I agree, content will win in the end.

    I’m gonna have to evaulate my visual appeal, while continuing the SEO. I don’t believe it will be one or the other.

  22. Holly White

    June 21, 2008 at 4:46 am

    Wow. Very cool search tool, extremely visually appealing and easy to use. I just don’t like it because I rank better in Google.

  23. justin

    June 21, 2008 at 5:27 am

    the results suck

  24. Benn Rosales

    June 21, 2008 at 8:44 am

    #23 that’s why it’s public beta

  25. Glenn fm Naples

    June 21, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Interesting concept – but as Carson points out from the Stanford study – people are attracted to visually design. But wouldn’t Google pick this up when assessing the bounce rate for a site and its impact on its placement in the search results? People might click on a link look at the site and then go back to the results, due to the site being unappealling visually – hence the higher bounce rate.

  26. Benn Rosales

    June 21, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Glenn, Google wants to sell advertising, bounce rate means we see more ads to them. We want less bounce in google so the consumer sees less option, meaning we want them to buy our product not theirs, so to change it would really hurtfull to them I think.

  27. Ken Smith

    June 22, 2008 at 1:08 am

    “ is super fast,” I hope that was a joke. Even on a cable modem that is anything other then fast IMO. I like being able to scan 10 results in about 3 seconds, never will be able to do that with this type of search.

    In general I just want a site that will provide the information I am looking for quickly, could care less what the site looks like. Sure it has something to do with my personality type.

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