Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chasing the perfect layout with AdSense for search

AdSense publisher Next Small Things has long understood that search is the entry point for users to find what they're looking for on the web. In fact, the idea for, a MySpace layout creation and customization site (and Next Small Things's largest business to date), came from the observation that many web surfers were using the company's search engine to find instructions to change their MySpace backgrounds. The observation and ensuing business idea has paid off, and in just one year has gained a loyal user base: over 200,000 users are now finding or creating layouts on the site every day. "CoolChaser has become a one-stop-shop for layouts because of the ease of use and the choice and ability for users to express what they feel at the time," says founder Chao Lam.

With over 20 million user-submitted layouts (and 3,000 created every hour), it was becoming increasingly difficult for users to find the layouts they were looking for. "We were getting a lot of requests from users to provide some sort of search mechanism so that they could easily find what they were looking for," developer Sachiko Kwan says. As an existing AdSense publisher, Kwan decided to try AdSense for search and was immediately impressed by the quick setup process and the accuracy of the results. With the new SiteSearch feature, Kwan was able to restrict the searches so users didn't have to leave the site to find what they were looking for. In addition, the new watermark feature allowed Kwan to add the search box without any rearrangement in the navigation bar.

Most recently, Lam and Kwan began optimizing their search for better performance and user experience. If a user wasn't creating a layout, they were looking for one. So Kwan moved the search box from the upper right corner of each page to the center of the header and also added a second search box to the bottom of every page, in case users who were done browsing needed to search again. On the search results page, she changed the ad borders to a lighter color to better blend in with the site's pages.

Within a week of making these changes, Lam and Kwan saw their daily search queries on CoolChaser increase by 40% and earnings more than double. Since implementing AdSense for search on CoolChaser, search has become the second most popular functionality behind creating layouts. Lam and Kwan continue to focus on user experience, and they are now working to refine search results using keywords and labels. "There's such an enormous variety of things people search for," Lam says. "AdSense for search is really working for us."

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