Pinpoint Targeting: Vertical Search Engines

Internet surfers are accustomed to using search engine giants Google, Yahoo and MSN to find everything they need. And, most of the time, successful searches are completed within seconds and returned with relevant and useful results.

However, business and professional users searching for work-related information on the Web are not finding what they need through the major general search engines. A 2006 study by Outsell reported a 31.9 percent failure rate among business users when researching topics using the major search engines.

A separate study from Convera further demonstrates how professionals in virtually every industry are having trouble finding important work-related information on the Web. While frustrating for B2B players, this current situation represents a significant opportunity for vertical search engines (VSEs).

Why General Search Engines Fail B2B Professionals

General Internet search engines like Google and Yahoo were not designed to be used as business tools - one reason why only 4 of 10 professionals surveyed by Convera claim to be "very satisfied" with search results:

- 11 percent always find what they are looking for on the first attempt.
- 43 percent always find what they are looking for after several attempts.
- 21 percent feel their query is always understood.

General search engines rely heavily on the popularity theory that rewards sites with authoritative inbound links. Website popularity and keyword relevancy (among other variables) help determine rankings. The relevancy model works well for consumer search, as the general population usually finds what they are looking for fairly easy in search results. For instance, at the time of this writing, a search for "Toyota Camry" brings up 2,630,000 results on Google and 6,740,000 on Yahoo. Clearly, there is no scarcity of information on Google and Yahoo when consumers are looking for product information - and they'll likely find it on the first page.

On the other hand, professionals get a mixed bag. While accustomed to instant success with their personal consumer searches, when it comes to looking up business information it's a different story. According to the Convera study, here's what professionals do when they don't find what they need. As you can see, this group doesn't give up easily.

- 17 percent give up before 5 minutes
- 42 percent continue searching for up to 15 minutes
- 24 percent continue searching for up to 30 minutes
- 17 percent continue searching for more than 30 minutes

It seems only logical that if business searches were more efficient and results faster to come by, business professionals
would happily employ a different strategy.

The Alternative: VSEs

Instead of fighting the Google and Yahoo wars, B2B firms can get better results by searching for and/or submitting sites to VSEs and directories. These outlets put relevant results directly in front of targeted B2B buyers by using customized algorithms and search strings. Good VSEs also provide enhanced services such as editorials, custom blogs and banners. Some will even allow marketers to blog on
approved topics, resulting in coveted user generated content.

The past year has seen a number of new VSEs arrive targeted at specific markets, such as the wholesale industry. Aside from the benefits for B2B firms, these resources offer options that allow business professionals to tailor searches according to their own requirements.

A significant trend revealed by the Convera study is that trade publications are developing their own online vertical search destinations for their professional communities. When asked about their expectations for these new vertical search resources, nearly 90 percent of professionals indicate they believe such search engines will offer more relevant content.

- 86 percent said VSEs will locate content more quickly.
- 85 percent believe VSEs will offer access to content not indexed by popular search engines.

Look Before You Place

While VSEs can be of great strategic value, businesses should carefully examine all aspects of such services before purchasing. Think of it in terms of selecting a good business partner - the arrangement should make good business sense for both sides. Make sure the right online community provides the following elements:

Industry Focus: By nature, VSEs should be heavily focused in only one industry and maintained by seasoned managers with years of experience in that market. These executives typically know all the potential customers and users of the products and can effectively bring them together in their online community.

Free, Pertinent Content: In the online world, content is king. The more relevant the content, the more attractive the site and the more high-quality traffic it drives. VSEs and directories that provide free, objective industry news and information will increase credibility among the target audience. In most cases these VSEs own trade publications, have partnerships with trade shows and employ editors to cover all industry aspects. Various Interactive Features: VSEs should provide the means to solicit feedback and share input with their users. Comment sections on blogs, article submission opportunities and reciprocal links not only increase a site's prominence but also provide an element of "stickiness." User feedback is critical for fine-tuning site performance. The result is better customer service and an edge on the competition.

Numerous, Qualified Members: While many VSEs claim to service specific markets, you should ensure that their stats add up. Businesses should conduct appropriate due diligence to validate the amount of qualified traffic and stickiness. Look for case studies that can help verify the kind of track record that can serve your needs better than other VSEs or general search engines.

Results-Based Marketing Services: VSEs should be focused on their customers by offering a wide variety of programs such as email marketing services, premium ad spaces and ad banner opportunities designed to reach that special industry audience. Moreover, VSEs should offer well-negotiated rates and a customer service team where account representatives deal one-on-one with each customer - ensuring their unique
business goals are well understood.

As evidenced by the results of the aforementioned studies, general search engines are leaving business professionals with much to be desired. Recent developments with VSEs are providing a strong alternative. But, as with any growing industry, it's important to research and understand these alternatives before making the plunge.

The advantages of vertical search will go a long way toward providing professionals with relevant business results while also helping advertisers and marketers target a very specific and relevant audience. Following these guidelines can help navigate this important industry trend.

About the Author:
Jason A. Prescott is the president of JP Communications, parent company of online wholesale merchandising vertical search engines and directories TopTenWholesale, Wholezilla, OffpriceNetwork and WholesaleU. Prescott serves on the education committee of The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), and has been a speaker at Search Engine Strategies. E-mail him at