Getting Vertical Search Right: A Sneak Preview

Six. That's the number of Google Dance T-shirts I own, one for every year that I've attended Search Engine Strategies San Jose, which makes it a complete set.

For you newcomers to the world of Google Dances, the first one was held in 2002 in a Silicon Valley park, because the Googleplex didn't exist in its current form. Google brought in rented couches, supplied bean bags, balls, and blankets, while Larry Page and Sergey Brin tooled around the party on a Segway. My, how times have changed.

Unfortunately, due to some unexpected events, this is also the first year I'll miss the mega SES summer conference. I had planned to moderate the Getting Vertical Search Right panel on August 20, which will now be hosted by Lauren Vaccarello, director of publishing for FXCM.

This session was appealing because it was an opportunity to step out of the travel box and see what's going on in other vertical spaces. That said, the travel space has recently seen its fair share of upstarts introducing creative search technologies, and building repeat users off that experience.

In a Googlized world, it's interesting to realize that we've created more advanced users by making search so simplified. So in the search for the next big thing, it's about providing a search service that is just above that highly set bar. Vertical search is all about getting frequent users to your highly specialized search product, after they've been introduced to it initially through a generic search engine or by word of mouth.

Primarily, the focus of the session in San Jose will be on improved search capabilities, and most importantly, highlight a differentiated product with the ability to stand out from the mass of competition in any given vertical. In order to get vertical search right, those sites that will ultimately win the war will gain new customers through organic and paid channels, and maintain loyal users on the basis of their vertical search savvy.

To give you a taste of what to expect at SES, I asked some of the speakers in this session about the opportunities and challenges in vertical search in today's marketplace.

Philip James, CEO, Snooth

"There's a ton of opportunity in vertical search -- no major search engine can hope to build out the specificity required to search a vertical well," James said. Beyond that, he's more concerned about the size of a vertical itself and its ability to scale and sustain traffic to balance out the resources required to build.

As a site driving its majority of traffic from organic SEO, sites like Snooth must rely on the quality of its content, James said. "A detailed page on a wine on our site is probably the most comprehensive page on that wine on the Web, and so the site, like Yelp and other vertical aggregators, have pages that are well-optimized for search."

However, the main challenge is in conversion of traffic, and you can expect James and the other panelists to address other successful examples of vertical models.

Jonathan Dingman, VP of Marketing, Digitally Imported

Dingman is keenly focused on the quickly changing digital world, and specifically, on how active verticals, such as the music industry, see constant fluctuation. Although this may be a more recent phenomenon, Dingman notes that there are some verticals where you may expect rampant changes. And with how fickle search can be, buzz-worthy items can easily create chaos in universal search -- even when you're reasonably stable for some terms.

Lucky to have a vertical that lends itself well to viral marketing, Dingman hopes to share some of his favorite tips for engaging users in the social media space and maximizing opportunities to spread the word about your Web site and gain better backlinks through the process of social engineering.

In addition to these panelists, Paul Forster from Indeed will also lend some additional insight on the job listings and classified vertical.

Now, I'm jealous all over again that I'll miss this year's conference, but you know what they say: there's always next year! The only question that remains: will someone please remember to grab me a Google Dance T-shirt, so my collection won't be incomplete?

Join us for SES San Jose, August 18-22 at the San Jose Convention Center.

About the author

Elisabeth Osmeloski has been in the search engine marketing industry since 1999, with agency experience as an SEO consultant and web copywriter for a variety of clients, ranging from small businesses to large corporations, as well as working in-house for a travel search industry startup. Elisabeth is also a regular speaker and a moderator at the Search Engine Strategies conferences.

Elisabeth recently launched a new blog and consulting agency, Adventures in Search, specializing in editorial services including content strategy, SEO copywriting, community development and management, social media marketing, online PR and customized link building. Elisabeth's areas of expertise include adventure travel services, destination and tourism marketing, outdoor recreation and action sports, as well as luxury- and lifestyle-focused brands.

She holds a B.A. in Marketing from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She also spent several years as the Skiing Editor for About.com, and still enjoys writing as an active travel journalist whenever possible. In addition to freelance travel writing assignments, Elisabeth has also created Downhill Divas, a social network for women interested in skiing, snowboarding, freeride mountain biking and living a healthy, active lifestyle.