How many vertical search sites can there be?

Vertical search is hot right now, and I get that.  The current paradigm of ‘one size search box fits all’ simply doesn’t deliver enough.

I have written before about how this is playing out in UK real estate.

Below are some Friday afternoon musings as I wonder how far this can go?

A good vertical search site will have the ambition to be the first place people think to go when they are searching in that vertical.  That is the first place, not second.  So people need to remember the brand and the URL and go straight there.  Not find it via Google or anyone else.

There is a miriad of interesting vertical search domains – video search, picture search, local search, job search, news search, real estate search, travel search etc. etc. – I can’t remember different sites for all that lot, which tells me that the good vertical search opportunities are limited to a small number of verticals.  Real estate, jobs and local seem to be the most obvious candidates.  These areas are all really important so the good sites will stick in the mind – but I doubt that same logic could extend to pictures, video, travel etc.

The other interesting question is business model.  In this CNN article Om Malik looks at travel vertical search site Mobissimo.  He argues that their success lies in emulating the Google model – be great at pointing people to the best information, but stop there – don’t get involved in the transaction.  I buy that up to a point – focus is a real asset and staying out of the transaction avoids conflict of interest – the only problem is gives you much less opportunity for revenue which means you have to be that much bigger before your company is valuable.

As I think about this, I realise that the landscape is murky and defining the boundaries of vertical search categories is hard.  For example, Kayak may be the best flight searh engine, but that doesn’t cover the TripAdvisor style content I also need to plan my trip, and nor are they likely to in the future.

  • Beatrice

    Nic,

    Good comments – the search is evolving and travel search is in need of fundamental change. There will be meaningful improvements happening in the travel space the months to come. The business model revolving around CPA, CPCs, and CPM combination is working and allows for growth. New products combinations that connect content with e-commerce will definitely address your needs and add to the revenue expansion for search companies.

  • Beatrice

    Nic,

    Good comments – the search is evolving and travel search is in need of fundamental change. There will be meaningful improvements happening in the travel space the months to come. The business model revolving around CPA, CPCs, and CPM combination is working and allows for growth. New products combinations that connect content with e-commerce will definitely address your needs and add to the revenue expansion for search companies.

  • Adam

    Not directly related, but my observation is that Google doesn’t have a natural community component that forms around the vertical. Vertical search sites do have a natural community of people who are interested in that particular vertical. I would argue that the community aspect of vertical search actually broadens the providers that interested users will be aware of and use, as evidenced by your examples of sub-verticals.

  • Adam

    Not directly related, but my observation is that Google doesn’t have a natural community component that forms around the vertical. Vertical search sites do have a natural community of people who are interested in that particular vertical. I would argue that the community aspect of vertical search actually broadens the providers that interested users will be aware of and use, as evidenced by your examples of sub-verticals.

  • “people need to remember the brand and the URL and go straight there”

    I guess search widgets could ameliorate this reach problem? And a “search this site / the web” dual functionality for a search widget incentivises the owner to add it to their site.

  • “people need to remember the brand and the URL and go straight there”

    I guess search widgets could ameliorate this reach problem? And a “search this site / the web” dual functionality for a search widget incentivises the owner to add it to their site.

  • nic

    Good comments guys, thank you. I need to do some more thinking but I am coming to the view that distinguishing between what you might call specialised horizontal search areas (e.g. video, news) and search focused on industry verticals (e.g. travel, real estate) is important.

    There is also more to say on driving traffic. If you don’t have a brand you are always in a weak position – I could swap your travel search widget for someone else’s in a heartbeat.

  • nic

    Good comments guys, thank you. I need to do some more thinking but I am coming to the view that distinguishing between what you might call specialised horizontal search areas (e.g. video, news) and search focused on industry verticals (e.g. travel, real estate) is important.

    There is also more to say on driving traffic. If you don’t have a brand you are always in a weak position – I could swap your travel search widget for someone else’s in a heartbeat.

  • “So people need to remember the brand and the URL and go straight there. Not find it via Google or anyone else”

    I disagree. I’m a co-founder of a start-up vertical search company (http://www.thewebstoobig.com/pr – a tightly focused search engine for UK PR agencies), and we’re expecting virtually all of our traffic to come from Google/other search engines.

    As you so rightly point out, it’s unreasonable to expect users to learn and remember URLs for every vertical search engine. However, if they can google a term, and then immediately find a vertical search that is much more likely to get them to what they’re looking for (quickly), then they don’t need to remember the URL.

    The alternative to this ‘two-click’ approach is to go through the search refinement process that we all currently battle with when searching with Google/Yahoo/your generic search engine of choice.

    So, in that sense, I see the generic search engines as an excellent bridge to the more focused vertical searches, where – ultimately – I’d hope that you find it easier to fulfil your search.

  • “So people need to remember the brand and the URL and go straight there. Not find it via Google or anyone else”

    I disagree. I’m a co-founder of a start-up vertical search company (http://www.thewebstoobig.com/pr – a tightly focused search engine for UK PR agencies), and we’re expecting virtually all of our traffic to come from Google/other search engines.

    As you so rightly point out, it’s unreasonable to expect users to learn and remember URLs for every vertical search engine. However, if they can google a term, and then immediately find a vertical search that is much more likely to get them to what they’re looking for (quickly), then they don’t need to remember the URL.

    The alternative to this ‘two-click’ approach is to go through the search refinement process that we all currently battle with when searching with Google/Yahoo/your generic search engine of choice.

    So, in that sense, I see the generic search engines as an excellent bridge to the more focused vertical searches, where – ultimately – I’d hope that you find it easier to fulfil your search.

  • nic

    Hi Mike – thanks for the comment. My view is that to be a highly valuable (hundreds of millions of dollars) vertical search play you need to have people go to your site directly. Reading my post again I didn’t make that very clear. You can, of course, have a great niche vertical search play and get your traffic via Google. All but the largest verticals will have to operate this way.

  • nic

    Hi Mike – thanks for the comment. My view is that to be a highly valuable (hundreds of millions of dollars) vertical search play you need to have people go to your site directly. Reading my post again I didn’t make that very clear. You can, of course, have a great niche vertical search play and get your traffic via Google. All but the largest verticals will have to operate this way.

  • Add also to the list Trabber – http://www.trabber.com

  • Add also to the list Trabber – http://www.trabber.com

  • David Appleton

    an interesting new entrant in the travel vertical is henoo.com, who follow a similar focussed search tack to Mobissimo with the exception that the search is powered by the product feeds from clients of the parent company’s (Internet Business Group, quoted on AIM) affiliate network Affiliate Future (who compete with one of your investments Nic Buy.at). The business model is very attractive as henoo earns both the affiliate commission and the Affiliate Future override (perhaps an additional 20-25%) on every transaction completed. They have also white labelled the search functionality for use by its Affiliate Future travel publishing base.

  • I think many Google analysts may be missing something: the recent slip in Google clicks could be partly due to the rise of vertical search engines. Look at what’s being done now online in the world of technical business-to-business advertising. Specialty vertical search engine Globalspec.com caters to engineers. Instead of telling its advertisers to fish for buyers within a vast ocean of mostly non-buyers, it creates a smaller pool – where the fish who buy actually swim. Ads are seen by people wanting to source a product. It had 35% ad revenue growth in 2007. It picked up another one million engineering-focused users last year to bring its registered user base to more than 4.1 million. Some 80,000 new users sign up each month. No wonder technical product suppliers are placing online ads and fishing where the fish are.

  • I think many Google analysts may be missing something: the recent slip in Google clicks could be partly due to the rise of vertical search engines. Look at what’s being done now online in the world of technical business-to-business advertising. Specialty vertical search engine Globalspec.com caters to engineers. Instead of telling its advertisers to fish for buyers within a vast ocean of mostly non-buyers, it creates a smaller pool – where the fish who buy actually swim. Ads are seen by people wanting to source a product. It had 35% ad revenue growth in 2007. It picked up another one million engineering-focused users last year to bring its registered user base to more than 4.1 million. Some 80,000 new users sign up each month. No wonder technical product suppliers are placing online ads and fishing where the fish are.