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Vertical search moves toward 'co-opetition'

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Vertical search has been a star topic at American Business Media events for the past couple of years. As search engines, particularly Google, have found more ways to expand their reach into specialized business sectors, b-to-b media companies have at times embraced the big search brands, at other times resented them and sometimes, with limited success, competed with them.

Currently, according to a panel at ABM's Top Management Meeting, the relationship is settling into something that could be called "co-opetition," the title of the session.

Moderator Toni Nevitt, president of eMedia & Information Marketing at VNU Business Media, said that partnering with large search engines is not the only alliance b-to-b media companies have to consider. To provide a rich vertical search experience for the user, she said, "you need to collaborate with search engines and competitors, not only b-to-b media companies but also your own users, in some way."

She also pointed out that Google's newly introduced Custom Search Engine (CSE), "roll your own search" from Rollyo and similar products put vertical search into the hands of individual users. "How do you differentiate yourself in vertical search when everybody can do it for themselves?" she asked panelists.

Todd Mickelsen, VP-business development for FAST, a search service provider, said a b-to-b media company can add value "by presenting searchers with ways of finding things they didn't know they didn't know." Working with b-to-b media sites such as Thomas Publishing Co.'s ThomasNet, FAST "dynamically generates categories that are relative to the term the user is searching," enabling them to focus the search toward geographic location, for example, or a specific subcategory.

"You start by taking an inventory of what you already have," said Kelly Gay, CEO of KnowledgeStorm. "What skills do your people have? What content do you have? What value are you already providing?" In doing such an inventory, KnowledgeStorm realized it had a strong, deep database of technology information, but it didn't have a "big brand," she said. "So we developed partnerships," including providing the white paper library for CMP's Network Computing site.

KnowledgeStorm also makes sure its content is optimized for the search engines. "If I can't make my information relevant to my users, it's not their responsibility to find me," Gay said.

Richard Kosinski, Yahoo!'s category development manager for business and finance, said that differentiation is based on the experience you provide for the user. "The results of the search are front and center, of course, but you provide value using the same four elements that make your site successful?content, search, personalization and community," he said.

At ALM, "we're looking to launch a legal search engine within the next couple of months," said Bill Pollak, president-CEO. "We decided to incorporate the search into our existing sites rather than investing marketing dollars to build up a freestanding brand."

The most critical component, Pollak said, "is building a true research tool that has a level of sophistication that aligns with our professional legal audience." M

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