Are vertical engines worth it for search?

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The gloves are off
The gloves are off

CONTENDER

Suzy Sandberg

President, PM Digital, Nine years of search marketing experience

Yes. With search a mainstream part of consumer behavior and a lucrative media channel for search engines, vertical search engines, such as TheFind, Kayak and MyRide.com, should be considered a valid strategy when outlining search programs. Here's why:

Smaller companies or niche businesses, looking to deliver specific messages to specialized audiences, have the greatest opportunity to reap the benefits of vertical search. These networks give marketers instant access to groups of people more likely to be interested in their message, product or service. Plus, vertical search engines are an economical and profitable alternative to the big three search engines — Google, Yahoo and Bing — because they have less competition and a lower cost-per-click. If budgets are tight, they can help a marketer maximize investment while reaching an audience that is sure to engage in a message or offer.

Establishing themselves in the vertical search space will give marketers a head start on this burgeoning channel as media fragmentation leads to consumers seeking more targeted content. As vertical networks address issues associated with lack of APIs to minimize manual optimizing and click fraud as well as help general consumer awareness, they can offer brands an opportunity to raise targeted awareness in specialized communities. That can result in significant ROI.

CONTENDER

Paul Burani

Partner, Web Liquid Group, four years of digital marketing experience

No. Vertical search earned its way into the marketing spotlight, beginning around the time that new entrants to the search game targeted people with a very specific research interest. The prevailing wisdom was that with one query rather than several, these search engines could offer the user high-quality, focused search results.

However, Google has understood the long-tail value of this market all along. By adapting its offering toward "universal" search results — for example, searching for a business shows a map with its location as the top result — it has managed to stay in front of these users. Vertical-oriented targets, like real estate listings or comparison shopping sites, might still remain the user's ultimate destination, but it will be Google making that connection - which means Google sells ads en route to that destination.

This is the biggest reason Google continues to win out. Advertisers, by and large, still prefer to work with that company due to the soundness of its model — it gets clear attribution of media spend, lots of free tools to research campaigns and analyze results, plus, of course, the opportunity to broaden marketing reach to a tremendous audience.

As search behavior becomes more advanced, users will continue to push for simplicity, which means that the one site with the ubiquitous brand will likely remain the hub.

DMNews' DECISION: Marketers shouldn't take vertical-specific search engines out of their arsenals just because more consumers use Google, Yahoo or Bing. At a time when companies want to reach niche groups of customers, these search engines provide one way of doing that, by 'pre-qualifying' their users

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