Vertical search trends

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Vertical search is all the rage...again. As a business model, vertical search has waxed and waned in hype over the past ten years, but it finally seems to be gaining some real teeth. As use of the Internet steadily increases, and with staggeringly more Web pages appearing every day, there is a growing desire for vertical search sites, which provide specialized information from authoritative sources.

There is clear marketing appeal in vertical search. The people who find their way to a vertical search engine are about as motivated and targeted a group as you can get. The waters have been tested and, as expected, the ROI in advertising on these sites can be significant. For example, at the April 2007 Search Engine Strategies conference in NYC, Brad Bauer from ClearGauge reported a case study of a Siemens Profitnet marketing effort. They found that Google drove more than twice the clicks of Business.com, however Business.com, a vertical search focused on business services, generated 60 percent more conversions at 1/5 the cost.

While you might not get the sheer volume of response from verticals that you can get from horizontal search engines like Google and Yahoo, this is a case where less is definitely more, in terms of ROI, and should be a part of the marketing mix.

Two early pioneers of vertical search in the business-to-business segment are Thomasnet.com, a directory of industrial suppliers, and Wholesalecentral.com, a directory of general merchandise wholesalers and wholesale products. Both are still thriving today. The common thread is that both sites are the products of trade publishers that were serving their respective industries long before the Internet went public. Both were early adopters, leveraging the power of the Internet to better serve their already established audiences.

The lesson that marketers can take away from these two examples is that when choosing a vertical on which to advertise, go with a well-established site that can demonstrate a targeted following. Here is a short list of some of the more established verticals:

Globalspec.com for the engineering industry, Petfinder.com, IMDB.com for movie buffs, Findlaw.com, and Findarticles.com, one of Looksmart's many vertical offerings. Excellent sources for vertical search sites are trade magazines, trade shows and special interest consumer publications. Ironically, searching the major horizontal search engines like Google and Yahoo for terms that you think your target audience might enter often leads to vertical search gold.

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