Friday, June 10, 2005

Vertical Search is Buzzy, but Does it Work?

The recent announcement by to add online content search capabilities for I.T. oriented content (MediaPost) is not a revolutionary change to the Forbes portal: already Forbes has used partners to provide focused searches to browse white papers and to provide a products and services directory embedded into its Web site's search results page. But unlike this fairly captive content the engine (search results example) tunes its algorithms for open Web searches. This raises the question of how effective such a tool can be in providing a useful focus. In comparing the above results from to results for the same keywords ("medical monitors") on Google and ThomasNet you can see the differences that can be found in different approaches to searching on a specific topic with different kinds of filtering criteria. The results focus on vendor Web sites and have some pages related to medical monitoring equipment but also a fair amount of information pulled from non-product pages such as awards and case studies. The Google results are highly product focused and provide what appears to be an excellent listing of highly relevant products, with fairly relevant contextual ads. The taxonomy on ThomasNet does not appear to have picked up on this fairly common phrase (chosen at random), choosing first a fairly random page from an OfficeMax catalog and then a listing for general scientific lab equipment.

Based on the results themselves in this quick test the verdict is not very conclusive for the strength of vertical search per se. But what's more important is to embed vertical search in destination content, such as specific articles or sections of a site, as is planned for the assets on Our recent research seems to indicate that business users don't view general portals and search engines as destination content but means to specific ends - and they're not likely to venture out to specialized search engines when Google will do quite nicely. But embedding an effective and focused search capability in specific items of destination content seems to afford a vertical search the focused audience that will encourage them to build a relationship with an effective service contextually. In essence any specific page of content that holds an audience is a portal, and a perfect place to put any number of value-add services for that audience, including vertical searches via directory products and specialized search engines. Forbes is increasingly canny on these kinds of tools and one to watch for developing best practices!
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