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Get Serious Customers with Vertical Search Engines

Vertical search engines are search engines that restrict their search by industry, geographic area, or file type. Google has several vertical search engines listed in the upper-left corner on its home page, for images, maps, and so forth. So when you type jam into Google’s images search, it only returns images of jam instead of Web pages devoted to jam products and jam-making. The three main types of vertical search engines are industry-specific, local, and behavioral.

Industry-specific search engines

Industry-specific vertical search engines serve particular types of businesses. The real estate industry has its own search engines like Zillow.com, Roost.com, and Realtor.com that provide housing listings, and companion sites like ServiceMagic.com, which is for home improvement contractors. For the medical industry, there’s WebMD, a search engine devoted entirely to medical questions and services. If you are searching for legal services, Findlaw.com and Lawyers.com can help you search for an attorney by location and practice.

Niche engines like these deliver a lower traffic volume but make up for it in quality of traffic. Visitors from niche engines are prequalified because they're looking for exactly your type of site.

Local search engines

A local search engine is an engine specializing in Web sites that are tied to a limited physical area, also known as a geotargeted area. Basically, it's looking for things in your general neck of the woods. In addition to their main index, each of the major search engines has a local-only engine that they can integrate into their main results, like Google Local and Yahoo! Local.

In submitting a page to a search engine, you have an option of listing up to five different criteria you can be searched under, including address, telephone number, city, and so on. That means if a site is submitted with information stating that it’s a local business, it’ll pop up if someone’s looking for that location and product. If you live in Milwaukee and you’re looking for a chiropractor, you have to type Milwaukee chiropractor into the search box: If you don't, you’ll end up with listings of hundreds of different chiropractors in places that are a little out of your range, like Grand Rapids. Adding a city or a ZIP code to your search automatically narrows the focus.

In late 2008, Google began attempting to determine the intent of the search and automatically started to geotarget search results based on the location of the searcher, even if the user did not specify a city or ZIP code in the query. Not every search gets these modifications automatically, but as Google's algorithm gets more accurate, Google will certainly seek to customize results further.

Less than one percent of searches in the major search engines include local search criteria, however. That’s why many large cities have their own local search engines. TrueLocal.com and Local.com are the most well known local-only engines. Internet yellow pages like YellowPages.com, SuperPages.com, DexKnows.com, and YellowBook.com are also out there clamoring for your local search queries.

Behavioral search engines

A behavioral search engine is a little bit trickier. Behaviorals look for searches by prior history. In other words, these search engines try to guess what exactly you’re looking for based upon your previous search inquiries. If you’re a coffee-drinker, and you’re always searching for some good java, a general search engine might turn up results about coffee beans and the computer programming language. By contrast, if you search using a behavioral engine, over time, it’s going to figure out by your user history that you’re only looking for coffee, and drop out the technology results completely the next time you run a search for java.

A good example of a behavioral search engine is Collarity (www.collarity.com), which sends you results and advertising based upon your search and browser history. The engines keep track of your history by using cookies. You’re basically leaving an electronic breadcrumb trail as you browse, and the behavioral search engine uses it to give you the most relevant results possible.

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