Case Study: Superfish Monetizes Browser Add-Ons Through Algorithmic Product Image Matching

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ADOTAS – Think of it like the visual version of Pandora’s Music Genome Project: instead of analyzing and categorizing the layers of data within music to discover similarities between songs, Superfish’s Visual Search Engine analyzes images and their surroundings to discover the “Visual DNA,” as the company calls it, and find matches in real-time — without text tags or human involvement.

“While other visual search techniques rely heavily on text tags attached to images or the use of human taggers to identify the content of an image, the Superfish Visual Search Engine is completely algorithmic and scalable,” explains cofounder Adi Pinhas. “It can also deliver visually similar results for ‘ad hoc’ and 3D images (such as images taken with a mobile phone) under a second — a task that has consistently challenged existing visual search technologies.”

OK, that’s pretty neat, but what do you do with it? Product comparison!

Originally launched to prove the ability of the technology that had been five years in development, 7 million users downloaded the WindowShopper browser add-on. When a user hovers over a product image, the tool adds a layer featuring identical and similar products, and offering users controls for price, retailer and product feature. In addition, you can share and save searches.

In other words, WindowShopper makes online comparison shopping a breeze. No wonder Superfish says it’s seeing a 30% month-over-month growth rate in product searches and than 2 million a day.

The growth rate is bound to accelerate further with the introduction of the Visual Search for the Web monetization platform for browser augmentation tools such as toolbars, add-ons and extensions. Through an easily installable line of javascript, Superfish adds product comparison abilities for more than 150 million items from major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

Like WindowShopper, when users hover over a product image, Superfish shows identical or similar products. With every click-through, the browser extension developer gets a commission — for WindowShopper, CTRs hit as high as 12%, the company says. Users get added functionality, developers get paid — Superfish is offering a pretty sweet deal all around.

Along with the launch of the monetization platform, Superfish shared a few case studies from the Visual Search’s time in private beta with 12 participants. Below is the experience of Surf Canyon, a search engine amplifier.

Background

Surf Canyon provides a Web browser add-on that adds a layer of intelligence on top of Google, Bing or other search engine results pages.  The company’s “real-time personalized search” re-ranks search results by instantly learning a user’s intent based on the links they open, post-search.  For example, as a user opens new links provided on a Google search results page, Surf Canyon learns more about the user’s intent and rearranges the Google results to display those most relevant for that person

As the quantity of information on the Internet grows, it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for search engines to provide all relevant results on page one, while also eliminating those that are irrelevant.  Surf Canyon addresses this challenge.

The company was founded in 2006 and currently has hundreds of thousands of users that have downloaded the free browser add-on.

Challenge

Developers of browser add-ons are always looking to add valuable features for their users. This can help attract new users as well as reduce the churn of existing users by making their add-on more compelling. However, with limited options to monetize add-ons, developers are challenged to invest the significant time and financial resources required to support and maintain new features and ensure that users are enjoying a great experience.

Superfish Solution

In October 2010, Surf Canyon integrated Superfish’s Visual Search for the Web platform, which enables users to see similar and identical products for sale at major online retailers when they mouse over a product image on any web page.  The entire JavaScript insertion took less than a day and the ongoing maintenance is managed entirely by Superfish.

“We have a complicated product, and our users are demanding,” said Surf Canyon CEO Mark Cramer. “Superfish allows me to focus on the core functionality of Surf Canyon while delivering some great new functionality that my users love…. [It] fits in perfectly with the core functionality of our app, and we don’t have to dedicate any time to manage/maintain it.”

While this platform is a new avenue for monetizing Surf Canyon, the most impressive results have been from existing users who appreciated the new functionality.

“We get a lot of proactive positive feedback from our users about the Superfish integration,” Cramer added. “It helps them be better shoppers and enables them to engage in a unique product discovery process that delivers similar products to the item they are searching on.”

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