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Finding, Saving and Sharing Information – Vertically

Posted on 2.01.2006
A Review of Vertical Search and Interview with LookSmart CEO David Hills

LookSmart.com

If you could promote your products on a level that consistently appealed to a targeted group of sophisticated niche users you would do it, right? Of course you would – it’s the dream of those responsible for online marketing and advertising.

Vertical search is increasing in awareness these days among the search world for good reason. Find a provider (and yes, they do exist) that can serve your advertising or promotional content to the prospects you are in pursuit of on a level that converts then you’ve successfully tapped a market you’ll want to stay in over the long term. Vertical search provides such an opportunity.

LookSmart is one such company offering a simple way to “find, save and share information” on a vertical level through customized search results and content. Looksmart focuses on providing “essential, not exhaustive information” to users of their service says David Hill, CEO of LookSmart. Catching users at different points in the sales process (or sales funnel) is something immensely valuable to advertisers and what LookSmart is providing.

Why is Vertical Search the next logical step for the Web?
As industries (take television or radio, even newspapers for example) mature, they tend to lean toward providing more specialized content. This provides interesting opportunities for everyone; content providers, merchants and even advertisers. So why is vertical search the next logical step for the Web? According to Hill, “as you develop a passion around something, you tend to rest on smaller niche sites that help you find what you’re looking for.”

Late October 2005 saw LookSmart unveil 181 vertical websites in thirteen categories that are impressively focused and demographically defined, making them the largest single provider of vertical search destinations on the Web. The Company's "brand promise" is to provide consumers with essential information for passions, needs and repetitive tasks encountered in everyday life.

LookSmart is not alone in the vertical space, but it is certainly one of its established leaders. Other providers include About.com, Business.com, Kayak.com, WeddingChannel.com, HealthLine, WebMD and hundreds of other specialized properties.

Hill had some valid perspectives on why users end up on vertical destinations, and indicated that while Google and Yahoo still rule when it comes to aggregating general information, companies like LookSmart that have developed vertical search products (where Web users look for a certain type of information, product or service) provide the ability for users to search among providers of that product and information on a more refined level.

It’s essential in the vertical search arena (or any business industry for that matter) that you truly understand what your consumers want and be dedicated to providing it. It seems clear to Hill that consumers want a trusted brand to provide the specialized content they are passionate about.

For each vertical category, LookSmart has developed an array of niche sites. For example, LookSmart's Money web sites include: mutual funds, real estate, retirement, savings, stocks, taxes and more. Unlike many other sites, content and articles found on LookSmart's vertical search sites are freely accessible and from a wide variety of sources. “Over time, when people get hooked on something, they tend to go to places on the Internet that are vertical.”

While vertical search may not be top of mind for the savvy ‘Net marketer now, it very well may be in the near future. There are several core components to LookSmart’s successful, albeit brief, time as a leader in vertical search. When asked about this, Hill stated “Exhaustive aggregation of all content in that vertical - If it's not exhaustive, it's not fulfilling its promise.

Other core components of success in vertical search are strikingly similar to those related to the success of search as a concept in general - primarily ease of use and unbiased information. “A user needs to trust that the search engine is working for them, not a bunch of paying customers,” said Hill. Relevant content is also a core component. “The search results need to be pertinent to the search term. If users need to continually refine their search to get what they want, they will abandon the site,” said Hill. LookSmart achieves its “exhaustive aggregation of content” for its verticals through a constrained publication search (from which they produce vertical results), a standard crawl and index general ‘Net backfill as well as its new Furl product.

Looksmart’s Furl: LookSmart is poised to make a dramatic impact on the world of search with its recent acquisition of Furl, a service which gives users the ability to browse the web and save any page with a single click as well as retrieve and share pages easily. Furl’s extremely detailed and versatile reporting, help make LookSmart a search engine worth considering experimenting with and comparing results with similarly placed search engines not set up for vertical search. LookSmart and Local.com announced that LookSmart's Furl.net ("Furl") will be the archiving technology powering the "Save" feature on Local.com.

Click Fraud: You can not really speak to anyone in the search industry without the concept of click-fraud rearing its ugly head. Looksmart has been pegged in the past as a source of poor converting traffic. When asked what steps LookSmart has taken to ensure better quality, Hill stated “We’ve developed some good systems and a good understanding of our vertical… we’ve dealth with it (click fraud) decisively.”

LookSmart releases fourth quarter earnings on February 9th. Information about its Web conference call can be obtained at http://shareholder.com/looksmart 

Corporate Information Regarding LookSmart:
LookSmart is an online media and technology company specializing in vertical search. The company provides relevant content, advertising and technology solutions for consumers, advertisers and publishers. LookSmart’s owned and operated vertical search sites are where customers look for what they need. The Company’s sites and web tools offer essential search results with the ability to find, save and share articles. In addition to owned and operated properties, LookSmart’s distribution network includes selected, monitored syndicated publishers and search engine partners that maximize advertiser ROI. Distribution partners include Lycos, CNET, InfoSpace (Excite, MetaCrawler, Webcrawler), Cox Interactive, Apple's Sherlock, and U.C. Berkeley. LookSmart offers a comprehensive and customizable set of syndicated solutions for publishers to grow their advertiser relationships and audience.

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