Search Engines Do the Vertical Polka

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In the past week San Francisco-based LookSmart launched five vertical search tools while search giant Yahoo unveiled its plans to expand its travel tool to allow searchers to do more specialized searches for accommodations and fares. There are even unverified rumors that Google could possibly take on shopping search giant eBay by offering its own shopping search engine. These are only a couple of the many developments in vertical search.

To say that the search engine market is crowded is an understatement. And while the major four -- Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves -- seem to have a reign on the search market, numbers of smaller, specialized vertical search engines are more than eager to carve out a name for themselves.

Vertical search offers a more specialized, focused search experience for users. If executed effectively, a vertical search engine can be more effective in connecting users with the information they need without the extemporaneous information often present in generalized search results. For instance, if a searcher types the term "the killers" into a major search engine with the aim of finding information on the new rock band, they are likely to get results containing information on "killer viruses," and, of course, "serial killers" among other things unrelated to what the user is actually looking for.

Using a vertical search engine such as one specializing in music could save the user time and the frustration of searching through results they neither want or need. Though it is impossible for any search engine to provide all users with the exact information they seek, vertical searches allow users to search in only the category of interest with some even allowing users to input desired specifications for things such as color, size, brand, model, etc.

Vertical search is not a new phenomenon. For one thing, the search engine market, in general, has exploded in the last couple of years and with that explosion the potential for enormous profits has also increased. As a result the competition in the current search market is extremely tight.

Now, vertical search engines have to do more than announce that they have a new search engine specializing in XYZ because with search engines debuting almost daily, chances are there is probably at least one other look-alike search engine debuting simultaneously.

A vertical search engine has to do three things to be competitive in the search engine arena:

· Solidly brand itself.

· Offer a good search product.

· Get users.

The latter might seem like a no-brainer but with so much competition in the search market, vertical search engines must find a way to attract visitors if they have any hopes of attracting the cash cow: advertisers.

If the upward trend in vertical search continues, the implications for advertisers are highly significant. Advertisers, who are constantly looking for new ways to target their products or services precisely to the group of consumers most likely to purchase, would no doubt be ecstatic to have search engines provide them with the hundreds, thousand, and even millions of searchers looking for exactly what they're selling.

This super-targeted advertising would even be a boon to consumers whom while looking for something like nursing services won't be bombarded with offers for pornography.


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