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Does engine's latest tool seal the vertical search debate?

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Since the Oct. 23 launch of Google Custom Search Engine (CSE), just about anyone can create the Google for the slice of the Internet where he or she has some expertise, whether it's the editor of a longstanding b-to-b media brand or a teenager with a passion for pop singer Fergie.

Google isn't the first major search engine to offer this capability: Yahoo! launched a similar product called Yahoo Search Builder in August. Perhaps the first entry in the field was Rollyo, a start-up company with a product of the same name (subtitled "roll your own search engine") that was launched in September 2005.

But only Google can pair the ability to create a vertical search home page or integrated site search with its AdSense revenue-sharing model. According to a survey of American Business Media member companies conducted by the search task force subcommittee of the Digital Media Council, "the majority" of b-to-b media companies are already using Google AdSense.

Further, Google is willing to let any publisher pick up its easy-to-use wizard-driven tool and design around it. That means the publisher can not only choose the sites that CSE will search, even if it's just the publisher's own site, but also tailor the look of the search results and the way content is prioritized.

Two b-to-b publishers were already using the tool before its official launch, IDG's MacWorld, where it replaced an outdated site search, and Penton Media's Excavator, a freestanding vertical search engine that complements such titles as Windows IT Pro, SQL Server Magazine and MSD2D.

Colin Crawford, senior VP-online at IDG, said: "Google in the past has been very good at general search, and now it has come up with a set of tools so that anyone has the power to select sites and people from the blogosphere" that complement the subject matter of their own site or blog.

"Google has taken an aggressive stance on this," he added. "Crawlers and algorithms are only part of it. One of the most exciting parts is that they have built in the ability [for the publisher who has originally built the custom search engine] to leverage `the wisdom of the crowd' to get even better results out of search."

Crawford also addressed the debate within b-to-b media that has been going on for about three years. "We've been struggling with the question of whether we should create our own search or leverage the general engines," he said. "The jury is still out."

On the one hand, he said, "Google generally delivers the majority of the traffic to our sites. That's the reality." On the other hand, he said, IDG "is not locked into Google. Because we have multiple brands around the worlds, we work with many partners, including Yahoo! and MSN."

Within a week of the launch of CSE, Cygnus Business Media was already using the tool to power the site search for firehouse.com. "It took less than an hour to set up," said Dave Iannone, VP- interactive. He is also using the tool to launch publicsafetysearch.com, a search engine for Cygnus' Public Safety Group that includes the fire, EMS, rescue and police segments.

Jeffrey Dearth, a partner with media banker DeSilva & Phillips who owns the URL, said, "I'm thinking seriously of using Google' s CSE to power verticalsearch.com." He added that it's too early to know how Google's new tool will affect others' efforts to develop vertical search tools and vertical search destination sites. "I think it will have repercussions we haven't even thought about because it empowers the individual, not the corporation or media company," he said.

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