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Vertical search engines: taking over search?

| Posted in category Vertical Search Engines

What's vertical search? This is, basically, search within certain outlined categories. Some vertical search engines specialize in just one field, while others focus on several (normally related) topics.

To visualize the concept, please, take a look at the following infographic:

So, when people say vertical search they probably refer to one of the following two things:

- Specialized sections in generic SEs (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.)

- Specialized vertical search engines (Zemanta, Technorati, Zagat, etc).

Universal Search

Back in the days when Universal Search was non-existent, very few people knew there even WERE different subcategories of search results, say, in Google. Now times have changed, and pretty much every user is aware of the fact that he/she can search for images, videos, news and other things separately.

But, how did Universal Search come into being? It was not without the competition from purely vertical SEs, that Google, Bing and other major players started pushing categorized search results into masses.

Vertical search engines

Specialized search definitely has its advantages. As the Web is growing bigger each day (in 2010, over 20 million new websites appeared), it's getting harder to find exactly what you are looking for, even though search engines are by far more evolved than they were, say, in 2003.

This is when vertical SEs come into play. One can turn to a specialized index to search for music, electronics, clothes, people or restaurants.  Vertical search engines (advantages):

- Have smaller index, and, thus, normally operate faster

- Offer fewer results to choose from

- Return more accurate results (well, in most cases)

- To find exactly what you need, you don't have to keep on perfecting your query.

As you see, from many perspectives, vertical SEs are a great deal. However, there are certain drawbacks, too:

- One needs a different vertical search engine for each topic

- Vertical SEs mostly have different interfaces and often have different sets of features. So, if you learn the ins and outs in Zemanta – doesn't mean you know how to use other vertical SEs.

- Some vertical SEs are very far from perfection, and, due to smaller budgets, they normally do not evolve as fast and as efficiently as, say, Google.

Vertical search engines serving different purposes

How many vertical search engines are there on the Web? Well, there are scores of them, actually. It would make no sense and be of little use to simply name as many vertical SEs as we can in this post.

I'd rather provide hot picks for some popular categories:

People search

When I need to learn more about a person, I normally do NOT use Google. I'd use or (depending on whether it's more for my personal or business needs).

So, I'd say Facebook and LinkedIn are #1 for people search.

However, some people prefer ZoomInfofor business people search. The advantage of ZoomInfo is that it allows you to search by name, job title, company name, industry keyword or even by location.

Blog search

Zemanta and Technorati are the two names that come to my mind in regards to blogosphere.

Well, you can't just go to Zemanta.Com and search for different blogs. With Zemanta, the fun begins when you start typing a blog post into your CMS. If you have a Zemanta plugin for, say, WordPress or Firefox installed, you will get suggested related content from Zemanta's semantic index AS YOU TYPE.

Related content includes thematically-relevant images, tags, links to other posts (you can place them at the bottom of your post), and in-text links (say, to Wikipedia, etc.). This way you find tons of relevant content to link out to. This leads to better user experience on your site and more power to you, so to say, because linking out to relevant content is reported to have a good impact on rankings.

But, guess what, just like other folks' content is suggested to you (based on the semantics of your post), your content is suggested to other bloggers. So, chances are (and the odds are rather high) that you will get lots of sizzling one-way links to your content JUST because you're using Zemanta. 😉

Now, Technorati is another extremely extensive blog and social media index. It compiles its index by harvesting tags that authors mark their content with.  Moreover, you can become a featured author if you write on topics like lifestyle, entertainment, politics, etc. and submit your piece of writing to Technorati.

Medical search

GoPubMed is an index of biomedical texts. It was launched in 2002 and was actually the FIRST semantic search engine on the Web.

Cooking search

Yummly boasts that it has "every recipe in the world".

What I love about their search results is that the ingredients for a dish are listed right where meta descriptions would be in Google. Plus, you can specify what products you'd like to exclude, what your diet is (say, vegetarian) and many other things while performing the search.

Electronics search

Retrevo is a vertical search engine intended specifically for electronics search. They say that they "match people and electronics".  The secret behind its success lies in the fact that they were the first to offer searchable product manuals, which was really cool, since users could quickly find answers to different product usage questions.

Everything search

Once you start searching for something on DuckDuckGo, you will soon understand why it's called this way. A little bit of ducking under and tweaking your semantics and – there you go – you get exactly what you've been looking for. Once you enter a search query, DuckDuckGo offers you several routes to take (categories to choose from) along with mixed-category search results provided below.

What's great about DuckDuckGo is that it doesn't make presumptions, doesn't personalize your search results and its results seem to be less commercially-oriented than Google's. So, when you have a minute, give this open source SE a play – it's fun.

Are vertical search engines going to take over search?

Is it possible that, due to their narrow specialization and highly relevant results, vertical SEs will overpower generic search giants like Google and Co? Well, before the emergence of Universal Search that seemed highly probable. As of now, the situation remains unclear.

However, as the statistics in Eli Goodman's "Searcher Intent: Why Vertical Search is Now Giving Ground to Core Search" indicate, over one-third of all desktop searches in the US is being made on "non-search engines". Remarkable, huh? Eli goes on to provide data that show the steady and quite rapid growth of vertical search engines over the past 4 years.

This makes one wonder - is this possible that vertical players will ever take over non-vertical major players? Well, you never know.

Imagine, if vertical search engines gained more power, where would this leave SEO-optimizers?

As far as I see it, the following changes would probably occur:

- On the one hand, it would become easier to optimize for a particular SE (less competition)

- Visitors coming through vertical SEs would most likely be much further in their buying cycle

- On the other hand, one would have to know the specifics of a great many of SEs

- SEO's would probably specialize in just a few business areas

Ok, whether vertical search will prevail in the future or not, you can take advantage of it now. Use Zemanta's capabilities to build links, optimize for different Universal Search sections on Google, get indexed by a notable vertical SE in your niche - and take your online business to the new heights.

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