What is a Vertical Search Engine?

Q: What’s a vertical search engine? Is Google one, or is it something else?

When we think of search engines, Google typically comes to mind first. This is perfectly natural, since they own a dominating market share over Yahoo and Bing, the closest competitors.

But there are plenty of other search engines that stick to one subject instead of trying to do it all. These are known as vertical search engines.

Some vertical search engines focus on travel deals, such as Kayak.com. Others tackle images, video, shopping comparisons or job hunting. There are blog search engines, including Technorati and BlogPulse.com. Webmasters and bloggers can use domain name search engines to help them search for available domains as well as brainstorm ideas.

Social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook serve as people search engines, and also allow you to connect and interact with those people once you’ve found them. Even Amazon.com has become a vertical search engine for products, especially given that an increasing percentage of items on the site are sold by third-party merchants on the Amazon platform.

So by defining vertical search engines as niche-specific, Google doesn’t count, right? Well, not exaxtly.

Google is typically considered a  general search engine, but they  actually operate many vertical search engines as well. Just think of Google Book Search, Google Finance, Google Images, Google News, and Google Scholar. With the release of Google Universal Search in 2007, these more specific search engines were integrated into regular Google searches, so Google now combines general web search with vertical search.

Back in 2006, ReadWriteWeb warned Google to “watch out, … vertical search is ramping up!” But an article this month in Search Engine Watch explains why in recent times vertical search has been giving ground to core search.

So what happened in the last 5 years? Part of the reason these vertical search engines haven’t taken market share away from the big boys is the fact that Google actively acquires many smaller search companies who serve these specific niches. And its new Universal Search is getting better and better (or so they believe) at guessing your search intent and serving up the most relevant vertical results alongside traditional web links. (Read our article on Universal Search for more on this.)

Is it fair for Google, who already dominate general search, to keep expanding and dominating new search markets? On one hand, they certainly must continue to grow in order to satisfy their shareholders and adapt to never-ending changes in the social web. But vertical search is still a critical part of the overall search landscape, and I hope the little guys will still have their place.


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  1. So vertical search engines are basically niche search engines. I’ve seen them around and I like the idea to tell you the truth and I think they will eventually take over, like niche based blogs did or like even niche TV stations did a lot of years ago.

  2. Yeah, niche search engine is a good way to define it.

    I think you’re right that they will take over. The big question that remains, however, is whether these vertical engines will be independent, or owned by Google (ie. Google Books, Google Scholar, Google Patents…etc). They definitely like to acquire promising startups in the vertical search market.

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