When a search engine founder like me hits out at Google, a global search engine with a reported $13.3 billion in ad revenue as of June 2007, some might call it envy of size and scale.
But business and professional users searching for work-related information on the Web will tell you, as a matter of online marketing fact, that bigger is definitely not better. They have experienced significant frustration in finding needed data through general search engines like Google and Yahoo.
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 shows that professionals in virtually every industry are having trouble finding important work-related information on the major search engines.
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, which is one reason 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. Web site 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 it is looking for fairly easy in search results.
For instance, a search for "Toyota Camry" brings up 2,630,000 results on Google and 6,740,000 on Yahoo at the time of this writing. 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, professionals the Web over 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.
Although these outlets possess only a fraction of the traffic of mass market-oriented search engines, VSEs use customized algorithms and search strings to put relevant results directly in front of targeted B2B buyers in the "hunt mode," or rather individuals actively looking to purchase business-related products and services.
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 highly sought-after user-generated content.
New VSEs targeting specific markets, such as the wholesale industry, have arrived in the past two yours. Aside from the benefits for B2B firms, these resources offer options that allow business professionals to tailor searches according to their 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 say they believe that 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.
Quality, Not Quantity, Makes for a Good VSE
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.
Make sure that the right online community provides the following elements:
- Industry focus: VSEs, by nature, should be heavily focused on 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 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 you verify the site has 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 banner-ad 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.