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Why Vertical Search Builds Better Buyer-Seller Connections?

Sep 28, 2009

Searching on the GYM -- Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft -- has become more of a workout than ever before. The billions of cached pages, pictures, videos, local results, and social network content being indexed in search engine results pages (SERPs) have resulted in more complexity than ever before for business users seeking information.

Google enjoys a 65 to 74 percent market share of conducted searches in the U.S., according to comScore and Hitwise, respectively. These numbers peaked last year and have been dropping gradually, and some of this traffic is going to industry verticals, as business professionals begin to realize the advantages of vertical search over Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

It's been well known since 2006 that business users have trouble finding relevant information on general search engines. The Outsell study reported general search engines failed business professionals on relevance more than 30 percent of the time. The Convera study reported only four out of 10 professionals were satisfied with general search engines. Respondents to the Convera 2009 VSE-B2B report found the major benefits of vertical search to be "quicker to find desired information" (67 percent), "top results more relevant" (65 percent), and "focused on specific business interests and workflow" (64 percent).

Verticals are highly focused
Vertical search engines are focused on specific content, which can be industry-based or topic-based. Industry-based sites include Ebuild for construction and home improvement products, FindLaw for attorney practice-specific legal information, and GlobalSpec for engineering procurement. Topic-based verticals include WebMD for health information and The Internet Movie Database for information about movies and actors. A complete review of vertical search can be found in "The Emerging Opportunity in Vertical Search" (PDF) from SearchChannel and Slack Barshinger.

Why B2B marketers need vertical search
Today's users are faced with search overload, which is good news for consumers but bad news for business folks. Engineers will sift through myriad results looking for a credible supplier on Google, but not on GlobalSpec. Retail buyers sourcing merchandise for back-to-school shoppers can go to an industry vertical to compare sellers and merchandise, or research for credible sellers.

It's hard for business pros to source on GYM, because these engines were not designed for commercial use. Archie and Gopher were created for academia and then morphed into the commercial web as WebCrawler, Yahoo, and Google. The major difference between general and vertical engines is the algorithm. General search relies heavily on popularity, rewarding sites with authoritative inbound links.

However, B2B publishers don't get ranked on general engines because most are laggards behind the curve. They build an information page or poorly constructed websites that are ignored by Google. That means mainstream search users miss out on many valuable resources because traditional crawlers and ranking mechanisms will never rank the average B2B site on the first page of results.

On the other hand, vertical search engines use customized algorithms and search strings created to put relevant results directly in front of targeted B2B buyers in "search and buy" mode. That's why business professionals get better results with vertical search.

Verticals work better for business buyers and sellers
The beauty of verticals is that they index and rank relevant industry information all in one place. Business users can source quickly, saving valuable time. Consider the following scenarios.

  1. The Nintendo Wii Fit is already selling out mere minutes after stores open their doors, and it is two months before Christmas. You have the game in stock, but nobody's ordering.
  2. A frenzied buyer needs a quick source for this hot merchandise and can't find a wholesaler or manufacturer to fill the order.

So, Nintendos are selling like hot cakes, but these two parties can't connect. Verticals provide a place where buyers and sellers can hook up and find business opportunity without the distractions of search overload on the big three.

Additionally, many verticals offer connection tools. For instance, Manufacturer.com offers its users free trade connection tools where buyers -- typically wholesalers -- can post buy leads in front of manufacturers and await responses. Verticals have the No. 1 concern of forming a valuable connection between buyers and sellers. 
 
Major benefits of vertical search engines
The top 10 reasons to use vertical search are:

  1. More leads for less money
  2. Highly targeted audience
  3. Users closer to purchase decision
  4. More advertising options than general search
  5. Excellent customer service
  6. Focused on business and work needs
  7. More relevant content and higher quality search results
  8. Increased brand awareness by visibility to industry peers
  9. Less competition for advertising
  10. More exposure opportunities and custom ad solutions

Fine wine on a beer budget
Most verticals offer organic and sponsored links, ad networks, paid inclusion, and special promotion opportunities such as email marketing to targeted customer lists. Advertisers get pinpoint targeting to their target market.

An interesting benefit of advertising on verticals is that queries for companies and products on general search engines often lead to vertical sites because they rank highly on Google. Therefore, if a link is already considered relevant by Google, your sponsored listing on that vertical can lead to another click.

As an advertiser, you'll find custom ad solutions and more advertising options than those on general search. Many verticals provide visibility on blogs. This gives you increased brand awareness to stand out from the crowd within your industry.

One of the biggest problems on the top three search engines right now is that advertising can be very expensive. Bid prices have more than doubled in the last 24 months for many keywords, and most major search engines haven't found a way to prevent large marketers with big budgets from buying up every single keyword, even when the keyword is 100 percent irrelevant to the products and services being sold.

What to look for in a vertical
Buyers and sellers should check out vertical search engines to find the right online community that provides the following features:

  1. Industry focus: Verticals should be heavily focused on only one industry and maintained by seasoned professionals with years of experience in the market niche.
  2. Free, relevant content: The more relevant the content, the more attractive the vertical and the more traffic it drives.
  3. Interactive features: Verticals should give users the means to provide feedback and ask questions. This feedback is important for continuously improving site performance and customer satisfaction. 
  4. Qualified members: While many verticals claim to service specific markets, you should ensure that the stats are valid by confirming traffic figures.
  5. Results-based marketing services: Look for verticals focused on customers by offering a wide variety of programs (email marketing services, premium ad spaces, and banner ad opportunities designed to reach a specific industry audience).
  6. Blog, newsroom, or forum: Look for verticals with featured bloggers and editors that contribute highly relevant industry information to assist buyers and sellers.
  7. Customer support: Look for one-on-one customer support to ensure your business goals are well understood.

What can you expect from advertising on verticals?
Information reported by eMarketer based on comScore data shows unique viewers of ads on vertical ad networks grew by 172 percent from March 2008 to March 2009. As a result, vertical ad networks are growing their reach, partly because of their ability to deliver engaged targeted audiences. Vertical network ads were viewed by 57.1 percent of the total U.S. internet audience in March of this year.

Vertical search has many advantages over general search, providing a strong alternative for B2B buyers and sellers alike.
 
Jason Prescott is CEO of JP Communications.

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