Vertical search is the new cyberspace wrinkle and a lot of
people who spend their lives dreaming of the future of the Internet are predicting
that it is going to change the way we look for jobs, love, hotel reservations,
and real estate on-line.
Vertical search engines are a response to the tremendous success of Google
and Yahoo and a reaction to some of the problems using the technologies they
Google, Yahoo, MSN, and other established search engines are general in nature.
Go to any one of these and type in "Asian spicy noodles," "Adirondack chairs,"
"protozoa," or "Tom Cruise and couches" and expect to receive a list of search
results; sometimes a list of thousands and thousands of results if the request
is not properly and narrowly focused. "Tom Cruise and couches" will probably
yield thousands of hits about the movie star. His movies and his love live and
several hundred references for stores selling, designing, or manufacturing upholstered
furniture. Trying to find the right definitions, keywords, or phrasing to focus
the search down to a manageable level might take a lot of tries and a lot of
time. So a vertical engine devoted to entertainment would probably limit results
to Tom and that famous episode on Oprah and on The View, and on Leno. You get
A vertical search engine, on the other hand, is dedicated to a particular area
of interest such as employment opportunities, travel, entertainment, or real
estate. Thus while a Google or Yahoo search is sorting through millions
of web sites a vertical search tool will concentrate on those sites it has previously
identified as most likely to be relevant to that search.
JupiterReserach in a study "Vertical Search: Early Marketers Will Reap
Rewards of Low Pricing," identified what it calls "The Four Horsemen
of Vertical Search"; retail, financial services, travel, and media and
entertainment. It is within these categories that 79 percent of the money spent
on paid searches in the U.S. is concentrated and where JupiterResearch expects
that vertical search will have the fastest growth. Retail has, in fact, been
a focus of vertical searches for some time with such sites as Shopzilla or Smarter.com
prowling the Internet to come up with the best prices for consumer goods. Type
"refrigerator prices" into Google or Yahoo and you will be able
to see how many of these engines are out there and explore how they work.
To give you an example here and now let's use - gosh, this
is tough - real estate as a test. A family being transferred from Chicago to
Modesto, California needs to find a house and will probably start with Realtor.com
which is, itself a type of vertical search engine but one with a glitch we will
discuss in a minute. Modesto is a well developed area on Realtor.com with most
listings linked directly to the listing agent, full information, and ample pictures
provided for most listings. The viewer, however, will not receive information
on homes For Sale by Owner (a FSBO) or through an agent not affiliated with
That, however, is not the main problem with Realtor.com. It does not search
real estate websites as would an engine such as the beta version of trulia,
one of the widely reviewed vertical engines for the real estate industry. Realtor.com
uploads information from member multiple listing services. Thus it is governed
by the old computer axiom of GI/GO - Garbage In/Garbage Out. Agents can be stingy
with the information they provide to their MLS and many an MLS is restrained
about the data it requests and then uploads to Realtor.com. The agent could
be lazy or eager to retain his control of the listing while still obeying MLS
rules. If the local MLS is the cause it may be because of a lack of technical
Take a look at the following information sets on the same house for sale in
an area where information on Realtor.com tends to be extremely sparse. The first
information is theirs.
- MLS #
- Map description and subdivision name
- Year built
- Number of bedrooms, number of baths
- Gross Living Area
- Estimated payment per month
- Listing Agency
This is accompanied by a single from-the-curb picture of the house.
If a potential buyer wants more information on this property without calling
the listing agent they have to figure out the URL for the listing office. Sometimes
this is easy, sometimes it takes a lot of code breaking. If he is dogged enough
to break through the following information will appear:
- MLS #
- Year built
- Number of bedrooms, number of baths
- Gross living area
- Neighborhood school names
- Fireplaces, Exterior finish, lot size, parking, street frontage
- Name of listing agent.
And the following description:
Wonderful home in Belle Point ready for its new owners! With plenty of
room, this brick ranch home has 4 nice sized bedrooms and 2 full baths. Beautiful
tile floors throughout, large family room, separate dining room, privacy fenced
backyard is perfect for outdoor parties and barbeques with the in-ground pool
(bet you never guessed that) and lighted gazebo. This home is located at the
end of a short street and adjoins a county owned wooded area for added privacy.
This text is accompanied by six interior and exterior pictures.
Now the point is, a good real estate vertical search engine
would have picked this listing up and provided all of this information or at
least a link to it without additional searching. It would also have found listings
from a local non-MLS discount broker and maybe even a FSBO owned by a computer-savvy
Vertical search seems much easier for the consumer but it is the financial
aspects of the technology that has entrepreneurs salivating. Because of the
ability of these engines to closely focus searches and pin-point replies, ads
on search results pages and on individual websites are likely to provide a much
better return to banner and pay-per-click advertisers who are currently paying
some very big bucks to appear on pages with a high level of generic traffic.
But don't expect the big search engines to stand by as upstarts such as Redfin,
the Seattle real estate search engine we profiled in February, try to steal
the thunder and market share. Google and Yahoo have been busy testing entries
into the vertical market in a number of categories. We will take a look at some
of these, including Google's new real estate search tools in
a few days.