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Publishers tackle vertical search issues at ABM-IDG workshop

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In May 2005, b-to-b publishers flocked to IDG Expo’s newly launched Syndicate Conference to learn more about some hot new Internet technologies—really simple syndication (RSS), blogging and podcasts. While their interest in content syndication has not gone away, online executives in b-to-b media are now particularly interested in vertical search. So, American Business Media teamed up with IDG Expo to develop a special workshop, “Vertical Search in the B-to-B Market,” which was held May 15 as a prelude to last week’s Syndicate Conference in New York.

In the kick-off keynote, Mark Cordover, founder and CEO of the vertical search destination IT.com, expounded on the provocative hypothesis that ubiquitous search is such a threat to b-to-b media companies that “it could lead to the wholesale obliteration of your brand.” That is, he added, if b-to-b media companies continue to limit their search functionality to their own sites.

As advertising dollars allocated to paid search overtake those allocated to online display advertising, he said, media companies could end up in the untenable position of having to pay to get traffic from the general search engines, as well as to produce content that “will be stripped of brand and lumped in with everyone else’s through RSS.”

Then, he said, users will have to return to the general search engines to make their final purchases if the b-to-b media Web site does not offer that functionality, giving their most valuable clicks to such companies as Google and Yahoo.

On the other hand, Cordover identified multimillion-dollar opportunities in vertical search for those companies that can use their institutional knowledge of a given b-to-b market and “provide a tool that’s an order of magnitude better than the horizontal search engines. You must make it an absolutely indispensable business tool.”

Cordover’s session was followed by overviews of various vertical search strategies from Reed Business Information, Hearst Business Media, Business.com and GlobalSpec, along with a talk on search privacy issues by Wendy Seltzer, visiting assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, where she teaches Internet law and information privacy.

Panelists from b-to-b media companies addressed Cordover’s contention that “search must be editorially driven” by saying that editorial involvement can be both a benefit and a limitation in vertical search.

Michael Azzara, senior VP-Internet business for CMP Technology, said some of the decisions editors make in designing search products are not necessarily the best for the search and retrieval of b-to-b information. “For example, the decision to list the most recent story first in the results, which follows from our history as a news organization, might not be the best way for the user,” he said.

Scott Falzone, VP-search/online business for Reed, noted that “everything the editors have asked to be included in our search has been included, but we have also added a lot to it for the sake of the users.”

In response to a question from Azzara, Falzone noted that no extra weight is given to content from Reed in the search results in the company’s newly launched freestanding vertical search site Zibb.com. “We made the decision early on that we’re looking to build an unbiased and relevant vertical search for b-to-b users,” he said.

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