I am still not on the vertical search bandwagon. I know it’s the latest buzz word in the search engine marketing community, but I am not sold that it’s the Google Killer as some would believe.

Vertical search is not new. It has been around for many years. It’s only now that it’s “blog worthy” because major companies seem to be investing dollars in its future. However, vertical search engines have large hurdles to handle before they are in the front of the mind of the average consumer.

Minimal Use Makes it Forgettable

By definition vertical searches are specific. This means that consumers are only using them on as-needed bases. That could be once a week, once a month, or even longer. A travel vertical search, for example, may only be used every 3 months. Because of this lack of use, the consumer becomes unfamiliar with the product. Thus, when the time comes again to search for a vacation, its back to Google they go. Forgetting all about the vertical search engine they used last vacation season.

Minimal Use -> Unfamiliar -> Minimal Use -> Unfamiliar -> Minimal Use

This usage cycle is lot different than the “Googling” consumers are doing every day. Google has become second nature for many consumers. Trying to get them to use another vertical search engine is hard enough, but then asking them to only use it at random times is a very steep mountain to climb.

Broad Results lead to trust

Even if the user can remember the new search engine, is it even needed anyway?

The assumption with vertical is that users want a more precise search results. Supposedly, consumers are getting lost in confusion of the massive index of websites that a Google query returns. Vertical search engines contain information in their indexes about a specific topic. This process eliminates waste and takes the consumer directly to what they are looking for. Many new vertical search engines are selling themselves as a narrowly focused results-oriented solution.

Its sounds like a great solution, but do users really want precise results?

Narrow results lead to mistrust. The smaller the search results, the less likely users are to trust the results. Because Google, Yahoo and others return a wide range of results per query, in some ways it actually proves itself to be more trustworthy. Consumers see the results and admire the breadth of information that is returned. Although, there may be an initial overwhelming sigh that may come over him, the consumer is comfortable with the results because it likely means an exhaustive search. That’s ultimately what the users want: A complete search. They want to know that they have seen all options before making a purchase.

On the other hand, a vertical search engine returns a small narrowly focused result. At first glance, this sounds like a great idea. However, a narrow results leads to skepticism.
Is this a complete list? Are these results paid? It is a true “natural search? Where can I find more results?

Consumers trust Google, because it’s so exhaustive, not despite it.

In other words, it comes down to trust. The broad, sometimes unrelated, results are actually what keep users coming back. It’s a beautiful thing. And right or wrong, the perception is Google is a complete web search. Perception is enough to win a consumer over. Vertical Search engines, by definition, are not a complete web search. That causes distrust.

As mentioned before, the precision is the problem with vertical search engines. Before we all jump on vertical search as the solution let’s make sure we analyze the problem. I am all for building a better product, but not for a “problem” that’s not really a problem to begin with.

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One Response to “Vertical Search leads to mistrust”

  1. Hi John,

    I couldn’t disagree more! But I’d give my right arm to republish your Vertical Search series on http://www.AltSearchEngines.com, with full attribution, so that my readers could hear another perspective.

    Thanks, please let me know

    Charles Knight, editor