Why Vertical Search Is Threatening Google’s Reign


Until recently, Google has dominated search. It has been the main stomping ground for consumers looking to buy products, visit sites, or conduct research.

However, the nature of search is changing, especially on mobile devices.

My own search behavior is a prime example. As a frequent traveler, I go straight to Kayak.com to search for flights. When I’m looking to buy a consumer product, I often sidestep Google entirely and go right to Amazon, eBay or PriceGrabber.

Recent research proves that I’m not alone in this and that consumer search behavior is evolving.

According to comScore, searches conducted on traditional search services — a category that is dominated by Google – declined 3 percent in the second half of last year. Meanwhile, searches on topical sites — known as vertical search — climbed 8 percent. In fact, The New York Times recently reported that Amazon maintains a larger share of shopping searches than Google does.

While vertical search has been steadily growing for years, the increase in Web addresses and the rise of mobile technology are key causes of the recent spike in growth.

At Magnetic, we remember what you’ve been searching for and use that to figure out which display ad to show you, so we are constantly considering the evolution of search behaviors across screens and what it means for marketers and publishers. What we’ve noticed is that searchers tend to conduct searches for products in three distinct stages:

Initial Search

Searches made on search engines – also known as core search – represent a large portion of consumer search behavior at 8.3 billion searches/month (as of February 2013).

When consumers begin their search quest, a common behavior is to initiate their online journey by visiting a core search engine such as Google. At this point, search queries are typically generic terms like “laptop computer” or “travel tips for Europe.” Potential customers at this stage are not planning to make a purchase or even looking for a specific product – they are instead exploring their options or looking for broader information.

Specific Search

As people explore the options provided by Google, they quickly move out of the search engine and visit topical sites – such as Best Buy or Apple – and carry out specific searches. Although the initial search activity often originates in Google, a majority of the follow-up searches – “specific searches” – have shifted to vertical and topical sites.

According to Google, in just five years, the Internet has gone from 1 trillion Web addresses to 30 trillion. With the addition of many more top-level domains coming over the next year, that explosion is continuing unabated. With so many sites and so much information at consumers’ fingertips, it’s increasingly common for users to skip search engines all together and conduct their specific searches within vertical or topical sites.

During this phase, data plays a key role for advertisers. Search terms and search patterns during the consideration process create important opportunities for marketers to engage consumers.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land recently told The New York Times, “You have millions of people a day saying exactly what they want, and if you’re an advertiser, it’s a beautiful vehicle.”

This window of opportunity enables marketers to influence brand preference before consumers make their final decision.

Specific searches are also becoming more popular with the rise of smartphones. For example, consumers often go straight to apps like Weather.com, Yelp, Kayak or ESPN. In some instances, mobile apps eliminate the need for search all together and push information out to consumers such as flight delays or news headlines.

Apps are both Google’s biggest threat and greatest opportunity (lest we forget, Google owns half of the smartphone traffic through Android.)

Revised Search

Another common occurrence is the revised search phase in which consumers often return to Google. They come equipped with a revised search based on information they’ve gathered across apps, vertical and topical sites.

In the example of a laptop computer search, they might revise their search to “HP Pavilion dv6t-7000.” At this point, they have most likely conducted searches across many sites, over minutes, hours, days or even weeks. Unfortunately, by this phase, the retargeting and influence window of opportunity has already passed.

Although the initial search may begin in Google, vertical and branded sites are on Google’s heels with an increasingly larger share of searches. And, mobile apps will emphasize the trend.

If you agree with our “three stages of search,” then you’ll probably also agree that the most valuable time to reach someone is in the initial or specific search stages, depending on how far down the purchase funnel you want to reach someone. If you wait all the way until someone is conducting their revised search, then you only have one variable to compete on: price. Not many of us want to be in that position.

The good news is that we as marketers can develop strategies that align specifically with this changing consumer behavior. For publishers and e-commerce players, this means you can develop product offerings to take advantage of the data under your roof.

While Google isn’t going anywhere, the way it’s used has changed. As a result, other publishers will chip away at Google’s market share, creating an opportunity for advertisers to reach audiences at the ripest time, using the proper search data and consumer touch points.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Search & Display | Search Marketing: Shopping Search Marketing


About The Author: is chief executive officer at search retargeting leader Magnetic charged with driving overall company expansion and building out Magnetic’s search retargeting infrastructure.

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  • http://twitter.com/ABEdwardRoofing AB Edward Ent., Inc.

    James, thanks for the good article here, the “revised search” has always been troublesome for small businesses, especially trying to keep up. Is there a general time-frame Google changes this method that you know of? Or even an average? Thanks again Tommy http://www.abedward.com

  • http://twitter.com/tinatinjohnson Tina Johnson

    Great article James. Re the last point, why would price be the competing variable at the revised search stage? For price conscious users, price could already factor in during initial search (i.e.: cheap laptop, budget hotels and etc) and specific search (i.e.: BestBuy, HolidayInn Express and etc).

  • http://www.facebook.com/mr.larry.kim Larry Kim

    my understanding was that google does 3 billion searches / day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/zgagan Gagan Sharma

    Obviously, When Google itself display 5/10 Amazon’s links on 1st SERP then what is the point of searching on Google and click on Amazon’s link and then again repeat search on Amazon. Eh.. its better directly go to Amazon and search.. same works for other major players similar shopping portals… Google should provide more variety and uniqueness in results and give chance to other sites..

  • http://twitter.com/JamesANGreen James Green

    Great point! Price can be a factor at any point in the funnel. But in the end when you’ve decided what you want, price is the only factor left. Thanks for the clarification!

  • http://twitter.com/JamesANGreen James Green

    Not that I know of I’m afraid. As you are probably aware, the best proxy if you are bidding on Google is the type of searches you are bidding on. The more product specific, tends to align with lower down the purchase funnel. (Mostly, not always, depends on the product.) Wish I had more to help you with!

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Hi James, as Mark Ballard from RKG pointed out last week, the comScore numbers are fatally flawed: http://searchengineland.com/relax-the-search-industry-is-doing-just-fine-157030. Not to suggest that vertical search isn’t important, simply that there is a reason why Google’s earnings continue to climb.


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