The keywords he was bidding on, however, quickly became very expensive. At the same time, conversion rates started dropping. Littrell decided to try a vertical strategy after reading about Knowledge Storm, a vertical search company based in Alpharetta, Ga.
Knowledge Storm put Captaris' message in front of buyers who were looking for hardware, software and services, in the form of a featured sponsorship as well as paid inclusion. For instance, Knowledge- Storm search returned links to Captaris white papers. It also helped vet Littrell's prospects by doing prequalification.
The real difference Littrell said he saw between using a vertical engine and a general one is that the vertical engines have fewer click-throughs, but the people who do click through are typically better qualified. This makes it easier for him to choose keyword purchases. For example, because Captaris helps medical organizations organize and retrieve medical records, the company thought the phrase "medical records" would be a good keyword purchase. Unfortunately, it didn't work that well on Google, he said, although it's a smart fit on Knowledge Storm.
"A lot of the clicks we got on Google were from people who were looking for their medical records from their 1973 hernia operation," he said. "It wasn't a bad term, but we were using it to target the wrong audience. That's where vertical search is powerful. It does part of the work for you by finding the right audience."
This automatic selection is the reason Littrell said his cost-per-lead is about 50% less on Knowledge- Storm than it is on Google.com. It's also why Captaris is splitting its search engine spend 60/40 in favor of vertical search.
The company tracks cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale. "Since we're a channel organization, there are a lot of challenges around getting that data, but it's still the goal," Littrell said. "It's about determining how many opportunities we are turning out of those leads because, without analysis, it could look like we have a very low cost per lead [using general search engines] but in reality, our cost-per-opportunity is very high."
Littrell said he knows it's easy to drive down cost-per-lead by giving away things and drive cost-per-sale up by not targeting the right people with the right offer.
Captaris saw such significant results it expanded its vertical search program to several other vertical engines including TechTarget and Techinfocenter. Still, because none of the vertical engines reaches every market Captaris is in, Littrell said he doesn't see his Google investment going away any time soon.
"I'd have to go out and advertise, for instance, on sites that hospital administrators go out to since that's not a vertical that's available to me," he said. "For that I just go to Google."