Achieving Dominance in Vertical Search

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • A vertical search engine is built for a specific type of content or industry vertical.
  • Google itself has internal vertical search engines like Google Flights and Google Shopping.
  • Don’t ignore non-Google search engines, such as Alibaba, Amazon, Trulia, Zillow, Yelp, Skyscanner, Shopzilla, YouTube…the list goes on!
  • Vertical search engines address unique user needs, helping you target conversion-ready traffic.
  • Optimizing for vertical search differs from platform to platform.
  • Only optimize for the search engines that will provide solid ROI.

Your performance in Google’s universal search results may be the key to healthy organic traffic. However, that doesn’t mean Google Search is the only game in town. Learn to dominate vertical search engines, and you’ll open up a world of additional opportunities to target conversion-ready prospects and all the ways they search.

WHAT IS VERTICAL SEARCH?

A vertical search engine is a specialized search engine built for a specific type of content or vertical. We use vertical search technology all the time, but it’s so intuitive for us that we may not always think about it. Any time we hunt for images on Pinterest, search for a product on Amazon, look for jobs on a site like Indeed, or discover new videos on YouTube, we’re using a vertical search engine. Essentially, these engines are designed to help us trim the fat and deliver the most relevant results for each type of search query.

Horizontal search engines

When you perform a web search in Google, Bing or Yahoo, you’re using a horizontal search engine (also called general search). That’s because those engines return results across the entire internet. For example, if you search “Enterprise SEO vs SEM,” Google will show you everything it has on the topic.

example of a horizontal search engine

Google vertical search

In an effort to provide the best possible search experience for the user, Google itself houses a robust network of vertical search engines. Most rely on the universal engine’s core search functions, but are then filtered through the lens of different content needs.

Let’s continue with the previous example. Click on one of the other vertical search engines, such as News, and Google will only return news articles for “enterprise SEO vs SEM.”

example of a vertical search engine

Here are several more examples of the top vertical search engines you can find on Google:

  • Shopping
  • News
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Flights
  • Finance
  • Patents
  • Scholar

Any one of these specialized search engines can provide you with a less competitive, more specific window of opportunity than the main results can. It’s not an either/or situation, though. Web pages that are struggling to rank on Google can’t just turn to a vertical search engine and dominate there instead. But if you’re already performing well on Google and you want to inject some caffeine into your organic strategy? Optimizing for the more segmented search engines will take you to the next level.

vertical search on social media

Vertical search technology on social media

Every major social media platform has their own internal search engine to deliver the in-platform experience their users are looking for. Some of these, like Facebook, are primarily designed to help people find other users. Others, like Pinterest or Houzz, are driven by specific segments (or types) of content. Opportunities abound in the latter category, with YouTube reigning king.

The second-largest search engine in the world, YouTube, is actually owned by Google too. However, we didn’t add it to the list of Google verticals above. Why? Because unlike the others, it uses a sophisticated internal search engine built specifically for YouTube. It’s so independent from Google Search, in fact, that Google has another vertical search engine, Google Videos, to help users find video content from across the web.

Examples of vertical search engines

There are a number of other vertical search sites that might be right for your business depending on, well, your specific vertical. These include:

  • In-platform ecommerce product search engines like the ones deployed by Amazon, Alibaba, Ebay, and Etsy
  • Comparison shopping engines that allow people to compare options seamlessly. In addition to Google Shopping search, sites like Pricegrabber and Shopzilla are popular options
  • Travel search engines help people find and compare plane tickets, rental cars, and hotels have proven themselves a smash hit within the travel vertical. For example, Skyscanner, Kayak, Orbitz, Priceline, and Travelocity are popular options
  • Vacation rental engines like AirBnB and HomeAway
  • Rental and real estate engines like Trulia and Zillow
  • Coupon search engines like RetailMeNot
  • Job search engines like Indeed, Monster and the search engines powered by LinkedIn and Glassdoor
  • Local search engines like Yelp and Angie’s List

Google “[your vertical] search engine” to find industry-specific search engines within your own industry. The list of vertical search engines gets too oddly-specific to cover them all! There are specialized search engines for finding doctors, search engines comparing bank account fees and credit card options, and search engines comparing moving services. Need a storage unit? Find and compare all the options at Sparefoot. Need an adorable shelter pet? Petfinder has you covered.

THE IMPORTANCE OF VERTICAL SEARCH

Vertical search engines have developed naturally to address unique user needs. Their popularity provides meaningful insight into searcher behavior. Similarly, their high traction shows us that users sometimes need more filtered and comparative search results than what universal search in Google can provide.

So in the broadest sense, vertical search is important because when we see a slow-growth trend in user behavior, we can assume that trend will continue. SEO is fundamentally invested in keeping up with and anticipating user behavior. What’s good for the user is good for search engine optimization.

In the narrower sense, the rules of optimization are different on vertical search platforms. Many brands don’t have optimization for individual platforms built into their SEO strategies. And that provides a less competitive pathway to a highly targeted and lucrative audience. 

Vertical search engines widen your net by introducing you to different user bases. At the same time, their narrower focus exponentially increases the odds that your new audience will be low-funnel and intent-driven. So, if you’re Cole Haan or SOREL, or Frye or Kenneth Cole, for example, you better be optimizing your ecommerce product pages in Amazon (regardless of your organic performance in Google) or you’ll be losing a significant amount of potential revenue. 

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Vertical search and the main Google results

Performing well in vertical search results can also impact the amount of search real estate you take up in Google’s main search results. So, let’s say your company sells car insurance. If a user is looking for car insurance, there’s a good chance they’re going to head straight to Google. Google will serve them the most relevant car insurance-related pages they can find, offering a variety of content formats depending on the specific query. So, your job is to make sure your insurance company dominates the Google SERPs for the car insurance vertical.

That means if there’s a format, search engine, or platform that Google deems relevant and helpful enough to pull into their main results, you should aim to dominate the results for those platforms. For example:

  • Videos from Google Video or YouTube
  • Images from Google Images
  • Locations from Google Maps
  • News stories from Google News.

Doing so will help you appear in the SERPs in multiple places. Which, int turn, reinforces your brand authority.

how to dominate vertical search

HOW TO DOMINATE VERTICAL SEARCH

And now the big question: how do integrate organic vertical search within your marketing strategy? The answer varies from platform to platform, since every search engine takes different factors into consideration. We’ll cover specific strategies for a few of the most common vertical search engines, then we’ll wrap up with some general tips about your overall strategy.

Vertical search optimization strategies

Let’s run back down our list of vertical search engines and talk about unique optimization strategies for each:

Google shopping

Performing well on Google Shopping hinges on optimizing and submitting a shopping feed. As such, analyzing the subsequent data and fine-tuning the campaign can quickly become a full-time job. Strategists who manage shopping feeds often overlap in skill and strategy with PPC strategists, so it’s helpful to have the two teams coordinate closely. If you aren’t sold on an in-house hire, agencies that offer PPC services often offer shopping feed services, too.


Read More: SEO vs PPC – Which has the Best ROI?


Other comparison shopping engines

For more targeted comparison engines like Kayak or Priceline, the best thing you can do to give yourself an edge is to make sure you actually compare favorably in the categories people care about. If people are comparing planet tickets by price, for example, no amount of beautiful content will send you to the top of the results. Having the lowest price will. However, for a site that focuses on adventure travel, other factors will outweigh price. In all cases, beautiful content marketing campaigns can help you land the conversion, so don’t ignore them.

Google news

Make your brand newsworthy, telling stories strategically and using the language that you want to reflect your brand in the search results. If something relevant is trending in the news, you can use newsjacking strategies to insert your brand into the conversation, and into the Google News search results.

Google images

Google uses a combination of alt text and existing site relevancy/authority to form the context they need to rank an image. The better your content and the sharper your on-site SEO, the more you’ll be able to get a high-resolution, properly-optimized image ranking for the right search queries. For specific topics, for example, it may make sense to create cool infographics to help you gain traction and broader visibility.

Use the alt text to accurately describe what the image is, adding long-tail keywords when it makes sense. This is an important way to help visually impaired users understand the information that’s in your photos, too.

YouTube search

YouTube

YouTube video SEO is extensive for a vertical search engine, but it’s not nearly as complicated as on-site SEO for Google. To achieve great results in YouTube, create awesome videos (that are better than everyone else’s for your target topics). Use tools like YouTube Suggest, YT Cockpit, vidIQ, KeywordTool.io, and Tubics to target the right keywords in YouTube. Optimize the title, description, meta data, and tags, by including a transcript, and by implementing a video sitemap. Keep an eye on your video analytics to continually generate higher-performing videos that gain greater visibility and that thrill your audience.

Local search engines, Amazon, Etsy, and other ecommerce-based search engines

All of these search engines use a combination of content, reviews, engagement, and relevance in their search algorithms. Your product or business listing should be keyword-rich and compelling, providing a call to action to get the user to engage further. Then plan out your review strategy, following up with your customers and requesting their honest feedback.

Choose the right search engines

Should you optimize for EVERY vertical search engine, or should you focus on one or two?

Well, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to remove a number of obvious “no’s” from your list right away. After all, vacation vertical search engines are meaningless if your product has nothing to do with vacations. Well, outside of planning your next trip to Aruba.

This will leave you with a list of “maybe-contenders” with an unknown ROI for your company. Let’s say you’re a furniture retailer. Is YouTube going to move the needle for your business? Or Pinterest? Houzz? Or Google Images? What sort of ROI will these sites produce? And how will you coordinate among these sites and your local stores? Does it make sense to conduct cross-site campaigns? Etc.

Let’s get this out of the way first: from an accessibility, on-site health, and ease-of-deployment standpoint, there’s no reason not to properly compress and optimize all of your images with alt text. So start building Google Image search optimization into the content creation process rather than thinking of it as a separate strategy.

From there, assess each platform

  • Who is the audience? Is it a target you’re trying to reach? 
  • How are your competitors performing on each platform? Analyze several competitors across platforms to see if there are any clear performance trends. 
  • Is the format a logical one for your vertical? A visual search engine like Pinterest is perfectly-suited to your furniture stores. But an insurance company or bank may have a harder time spotting a fit. What additional things can you accomplish by optimizing for that platform? It’s far easier to justify the resources you’ll need when the impact of your content affects other parts of the business. 
  • Consult with sales, support and others across your enterprise to help your assessment of each platform. For example, customer support may inform you that YouTube how-to videos might be exactly what your customer needs to avoid frustration and cement their loyalty.

Then test, test, test. Put effort into all of your top contenders and measure their ROI over time. Winners and losers should start to emerge, helping guide your decisions about where to channel your resources next.

Create unique content for each vertical search engine

All vertical search engines require some optimization. But, while some vertical search engines like Kayak and Expedia auto-populate data, others require more effort and content creation.

Take Amazon, for example. Product pages may seem relatively straightforward. Just add images and a short description, right? This strategy, though, won’t have you ranking No. 1 in the Amazon.com search results. Instead, your strategy could involve:

  • An optimized product title
  • Product videos showing the product in action
  • Photos of different angles of your product
  • Bullet points in your description
  • An ASIN in your product field
  • A selection of all the relevant categories
  • Descriptive answers in the Questions and Answers area of the page

Pinterest, on the other hand, leaves little room for any real copy. Instead, Pinterest relies on images. If you’re a retailer, rather than pin a product photo, you might consider putting together a visual style guide for how your product could be worn. Or a lookbook or trends guide.

Or, if you’re an accounting firm for women-owned businesses, you might create a series of downloadable budgeting worksheets for Pinterest. In addition, for YouTube, you might create an interview series with cool, Girlboss type trailblazers. In comparison, you’d keep your information much more straightforward with a directory for accountants such as CPADirectory.com.

With vertical search engines, however, what works for one probably won’t work for another. So produce content that targets each vertical search engine’s specific audience in a way that maximizes the benefit of your presence on the engine.

Retain a consistent brand voice

Vertical search domination is part of an omni-channel strategy, and the same best practices about brand consistency apply. Don’t think of each channel as living in its own separate silo. Instead, build each one into the larger ecosystem of your brand, marketing, content, and SEO strategies. Make sure your brand voice and strategy is well-documented. That way, it will be easier to provide a consistent experience across platforms.

With a little work, you can increase your online visibility and website traffic and make your brand even more memorable, all by keeping up with where and how your customers search across multiple types of search engines.

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