Google Real Estate? It’s Google Base Again, Google’s Vertical Play

New reports of Google Real Estate are simply what we’ve covered before, Google Base results flowing into regular Google. But it’s interesting to see how Google’s delivering on the promise of Google Base as the engine that drives a variety of vertical search engines, plus how it’s skipping the step of creating standalone sites for each vertical. I think those will still come, but the current moves that underscores what I’ve been saying to marketers for ages now — pay attention to vertical search.

Let me back up a bit and revisit the concept of vertical search. That’s because as I’ve talked to people recently and asked if they know what “vertical search” means, many pause and then hesitantly confess they don’t get the reference.

Think of web search as being “horizontal,” in that you search across a wide horizontal spectrum of interests. Web search might have to serve you results about golfing, buying cars, medical information, news and so on.

Vertical search is the idea that you’ll look at only one segment of that interest spectrum, a vertical slice, a focus just on health — or cars — or news, etc.

I hate the term vertical search, myself. I used to use specialty search or specialized search but finally gave up because I felt vertical search was getting more understanding.

Vertical search is important because it’s one of the two major things I’ve long talked about as being how search will advance. First generation search analyzed words on a page to rank content. Second generation search tapped into link analysis. Third generation search to me is looking at both user input (what we visit; what we click on; personalized results) and making search go more vertical.

Why the generational jumps at all? To improve relevancy. Each generation has fought the double challenge of being overwhelmed by increasing amounts of information to organize plus having ranking systems become more and more vulnerable to manipulation and outright spam.

To do vertical search, you can create a custom service then put it out there under its own name and domain. That’s long worked for the major search engines: Google News; Yahoo Shopping; Ask Images and so on. But the problem remains that many times, people still won’t discover the verticals you offer. They’ll still do news search on regular Google, completely missing the better results they’d get by going to Google News directly.

Searching With Invisible Tabs is my article from 2003 that looks at this more. It leads off with me joking about how Google would look in 2005, covered in a bunch of vertical search tabs. I actually created this back in 2001, but consider some of the tabs I put on the page:

  • Video
  • Email
  • Business
  • Shopping
  • Phone
  • Recipes
  • Books

Google now has dedicated or semi-dedicated vertical searches in all of these areas and more. But it can’t shove them all out on to the home page. So instead, it needs to invisibly push the right tab for you behind the scenes.

“Vertical Creep” is another term I’ve been pushing for the past year or so, to try and underscore the coming change to search marketers who remain all too fixated on Google web search in particular and web search in general. What you think is number one is being pushed “down” the page by vertical results that are creeping into the top listings.

We did our first SES session on this last year (and covered here), but many people still didn’t seem to get the coming change. We repeated the session in New York (as covered here), and it resonated with many more people. In big part, I’d say it’s because they themselves were noticing more how vertical results were creeping in.

Google Base integration is part of this vertical creep. It’s right inline with the OneBox creeps that Google’s already been doing but more dramatic because the various drop-down options for different types of searches (real estate, cars, etc) really make the implementation standout more.

When the comparisons between Google Base and Microsoft’s classified search engine started, I explained that Google Base itself wasn’t the place to expect people to search:

Google Base is, as I wrote before, the master way Google wants to accept content of all type. I don’t expect that many people will really be turning to Google Base for specialized searching, however. Instead, as content of particular types grows, we’ll see more spin-offs.

In other words, Google Base will help power a future Google Classifieds, a Google Jobs, a Google Housing, perhaps a Google Auctions and so on. These specialized services, standalone sites — like Google’s shopping search engine Froogle — will have more refined features to help with the specific searching task you’re doing.

The latest moves by Google are unique in that we haven’t been given actual standalone sites. There remains no Google Real Estate. But the implementation into the search results show how searchers will be directed to what are effectively surrogates of these types of services. I still expect we’ll eventually see standalone Google Real Estate, Google Recipes, Google Autos and whatever sites — all powered underneath by Google Base. But interestingly, Google’s taken the reverse step of using the regular results as a proving ground for potential vertical plays rather than commit to them and then do integration after the fact.

What’s a marketer to do? Pay more attention to Google Base. Be sure you’re feeding content in, if you haven’t already started. That’s going to be your future with Google — doing well in the vertical results, which will get only more and more prominent.

In the meantime, expect to hear more about Google vertical searches that don’t exist as standalone sites, as Google Recipes! Google Careers! Google Confusion! The UI Madness Continues covers more. Now Steve Rubel blogs about Google Autos, and as Nathan Weinberg rightly points out, there’s a variety of other verticals you’ll likely see pop-up. Meanwhile, there are people going to Google Base directly, and Hitwise has new stats up showing where they head after that (most to shopping sites).

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