Vertical search bigger than all but Google and Yahoo

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The Nielsen//NetRatings MegaView Search says the big three search engines are Google, Yahoo and MSN. But if "Vertical Search" was the name of a brand new search engine, then it would already be bigger than MSN.

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, there were 2,449,396,000 searches on Google, 1,118,429,000 on Yahoo and 582,702,000 on MSN last October. There were 618,760,000 image, local, shopping and news searches conducted the same month.

And this is a conservative estimate, because it doesn't count "Vertical Creep" into regular search results.

Vertical Creep is a term coined in the past year by Danny Sullivan, the founder and editor of SearchEngineWatch.com. Vertical Creep is synonymous with Invisible Tabs, an earlier term that Mr. Sullivan coined in 2003 when he accurately predicted that vertical search results would be integrated into the default Web search results.

By December 2004, Mr. Sullivan's prediction had become a series of new search engine features called Google OneBox Results, Yahoo Shortcuts, AOL Snapshots and Ask Smart Search. All of these are other names for Vertical Creep.

While Vertical Creep is a relatively new term, it has become very clear that being No. 1 in the search results increasingly means being listed in vertical search.

"Even if users don't choose to do a vertical search, there's more chance than ever that search engines will show some vertical listings at the top of 'default' results," Mr. Sullivan said.

While the Nielsen//NetRatings data on vertical search is pretty compelling, it doesn't count clicks on vertical listings when they are the results of Web searches.

So, how far has Vertical Creep crept so far?

Last summer, LeeAnn Prescott, a senior research analyst at Internet intelligence firm Hitwise, told me that more than 7 percent of Google's downstream visits went to Google Image Search, Google News, Google Maps, Froogle and other Google verticals. More than 8 percent of downstream visits from Yahoo Search went to Yahoo Image Search, Yahoo Local and other vertical Yahoo properties.

I ran these findings by Gord Hotchkiss, president/CEO of Enquiro, who is both a friend and an expert on Vertical Creep. He said the Hitwise data was in the same ballpark as the findings of a survey that Enquiro conducted with the help of MarketingSherpa back in October 2004.

Entitled "The Role of Search in Business to Business Buying Decisions," the survey of almost 1,500 people found that 5.8 percent chose "alternate organic listings" (shopping, news and local) on the first try. Then, if they didn't find anything of interest, 3.2 percent chose alternate organic listings on the second try.

There were 4,511,808,000 Web searches conducted last October, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. If 7 percent to 8 percent are sidetracked by Vertical Creep, that's 315,826,560 to 360,944,640 searches - close to the 368,130,000 searches conducted last October on AOL, the fourth largest search engine.

In other words, whether to look at vertical search by itself or add the results of Vertical Creep to the total, image, local, shopping and news search can drive more traffic to your Web site than all but the two largest search engines.

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