Vertical search engines offer huge potential opportunities for publishers, yet many organizations fail to take advantage of them. It's natural, of course, as Web search is by far the largest possible opportunity. However, Web search also offers the most competitive environment. That makes it much harder to win.
Let's illustrate that with a simple example. A search for "digital camera" in Google shows 124 million results. The same search in Google image search returns 19.4 million results, or about 15 percent as many competitors.
February 2009 Hitwise data suggests that Google image search has about 8.4 percent of the traffic of Google Web search. But, bear in mind that image searches performed in Google Web search (rather than in image search) may bring up images, and that traffic is being counted as part of image search.
If you take this further, you can perform a search on a specific product, such as the "Fujifilm Z5fd camera." A Yahoo Web search returns 298,000 Web search results. A Yahoo image search returns only 257 results. That means there are 1,100 times more competitors for this specific search term in Web search than in image search.
So now you get the picture (so sorry, that just slipped out, no pun intended). The potential traffic may be smaller, but the competitiveness is a lot smaller in the image search engines. Does the same hold true in other verticals? You bet.
Let's look at product search. Yahoo shopping search shows 38 results for a "Fujifilm Z5fd camera" search! Yahoo video search shows none! Even on YouTube, which as of early 2009 moved ahead of Yahoo to become the second largest search engine in the market, there are only three results for this search.
The growth of YouTube as a general search engine is interesting to think about, too. It suggests that search may be shifting a bit.
All those searchers aren't looking for music videos. People are beginning to look for all types of content on YouTube. That's one reason for nearly any organization to consider placing a video on YouTube.
For one last example to illustrate this, for the search "seo," YouTube returns 30,900 results, and Google Web search returns 265 million (an 8,500 to 1 ratio). Maybe it is time for me to get going on producing some videos!
Which Opportunities Are Best for You?
Some of the most interesting opportunities include:
In deciding which path to pursue, the first thing to address is what is the available content you already have? And, what content can you produce relatively efficiently?
For example, local search won't work for you unless you have physical locations, and it works best if you have hundreds or thousands of locations. If you do, then local search is a must.
You also need to look to the ancillary benefits. Product search volumes are much smaller, but how do you suppose the conversion rate on those visitors compares?
The conversion rate is probably much higher. After all, someone had to specifically go to a product/shopping search engine and then type in a specific product. Chances are that they are not looking for reviews or general information.
News search runs quite a bit smaller in volume as well, but once again you need to think about the audience that is seeing it. Editors and writers from traditional media and blogs will see your news content, and assuming you put out quality information, you will get links to your site. These are links that would otherwise be very tough to get.
The same is true with blog search. The same types of audiences scan blog search results, and look for information related to their own writing efforts. As with news, a blog creates the burden of regularly producing quality content, but the reward for doing so can be tons of links.
There are so many opportunities, so choosing which one may be a bit difficult. You basically need to map the scope of the opportunity and the nature of the effort in order to decide. Whatever you do, be aware that these opportunities are there, and for many organizations one or more of them is worth pursuing.