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VerticalSearch.com: Google for b-to-b?

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For media companies, Google is both the bogeyman and, increasingly, the model for how to generate revenue on the Internet. This is a company, after all, that reported revenue of $1.6 billion for the third quarter, an increase of 96% from the year-earlier period.

So some in the business media industry are beginning to think that emulating this money machine might make sense. Jeffrey Dearth, partner at media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips is one of them. He came up with his idea for a vertical search portal about 10 years ago, which was when he acquired the domain name verticalsearch.com.

Verticalsearch.com arrives

A decade later, he's finally making use of that prescient URL, with vertical search becoming a hot topic over the past two years. Early in November, Dearth announced the launch of his beta search engine at www.verticalsearch.com.

"If you were the content and information provider in a vertical market, it seemed to me that you ought to be the search provider in that vertical as well," he said.

As excited as he is about the launch, Dearth made it clear that he's keeping his position at DeSilva & Phillips and providing mainly strategic thinking-and not day-to-day operational management-for VerticalSearch.com LLC.

"We're presenting the company as the search engine for the b-to-b community," Dearth said.

VerticalSearch.com will crawl about 4,000 b-to-b media Web sites and about 1 million pages-with more to come, Dearth said. The goal is to provide more precise search results for Web users interested in business content.

For b-to-b media companies VerticalSearch.com will ideally generate more traffic. And for b-to-b marketers, the site offers a chance for targeted, key-word advertising.

VerticalSearch.com's business model is similar to that of Google, with revenue coming from self-service keyword advertising sales. Planet Discover provided the search engine platform for VerticalSearch.com. It also provided search engine technology for SearchChannel, which offers narrow search engines for particular b-to-b vertical markets.

Looking to ease frustration

"A primary objective of VerticalSearch.com is to become the preferred referral source for all b-to-b information providers, including all free service sites, registration-only sites and paid-content sites," Terry Millard, president of Planet Discover, said in a statement. "VerticalSearch.com serves to resolve a common frustration b-to-b information providers encounter-a lack of prominent ranking in large, generalized, consumer search engine results."

If VerticalSearch.com can convince b-to-b media companies to allow their paid content sites to be indexed, this search portal has the potential to transform the way Web users find business information online.

Patrick Kenealy, CEO of International Data Group, which publishes PC World and Computerw orld, has long seen the potential value in a b-to-b-oriented search portal, which he likens to a library.

A one-book library

"If I have one good book, and I keep it in the library and I said everyone should come to the library, my library wouldn't get a lot of attention," Kenealy said, comparing single-magazine-title Web sites to this metaphorical one-book library. A b-to-b search engine portal, such as the one being started by VerticalSearch.com, could create a broad b-to-b online "library" that would attract more visitors.

Kenealy has informally proposed that b-to-b media companies join together and form such a search-oriented portal that would charge for access in a manner similar to cable operators charging for access to channels such as HBO or Lifetime.

VerticalSearch.com might provide the opportunity for b-to-b media companies to assess the feasibility of such a venture.

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