Room for vertical search?

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For years, b-to-b media have debated the viability of creating search engines specifically for their specialized business audiences.

The arguments regarding vertical search generally boil down to questions about competing with the dominant consumer search engines such as Google and Yahoo!

Are the consumer engines doing a good enough job for business users to keep them from seeking a different, more market-specific search engine? Or are businesspeople dissatisfied enough with the millions of results from a Google or Yahoo! keyword search to adopt a vertical search engine that will save them precious time and turn up more relevant data?

Convera, a provider of search technologies for professional and business users, recently surveyed 1,600 professionals in advertising, finance, government, health care, marketing, publishing and other sectors to find out the extent of their use of consumer search engines and their level of satisfaction with the results.

Thirty percent of the respondents, almost 500 people, were eliminated after answering the first question because they said they do not use consumer search engines to do work-related research.

But that doesn't mean that 30% of businesspeople don't use search for work-related research, noted Jeffrey Dearth, partner with media banker DeSilva & Phillips.

For example, some professional have more powerful tools available at work, such as "the classic searchable desktop research applications like LexisNexis, Factiva or Bloomberg," Dearth said.

Of the 1,112 respondents to the Convera survey who do use the major search engines as research tools, 95% said they found them to be an aid rather than a distraction at work.

Forty percent said they were very satisfied with the popular search engines for work-related research; 57% said they were somewhat satisfied.

Dearth said he was a little surprised to see such a high degree of satisfaction with consumer search engines. The big engines, he said, "are not professional-grade, but they do a pretty decent job."

The biggest downside of using the popular engines for business-related searches is the amount of time it takes, the Convera survey found.

Although 89% of respondents sometimes (46%) or always (43%) find what they want after several attempts, only 11% said they always find what they want on the first attempt.

Fifty-nine percent said they spend 15 minutes or less on a single search before giving up, while 24% will search for 16 to 30 minutes, and 17% are willing to search for more than half an hour. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they give up after five or fewer fruitless queries; 41% said they will try six to 10 queries before quitting.

"The extraordinary amount of time businesspeople spend searching shows that individuals become locked into the search engine with which they are most familiar and comfortable, no matter how long it takes," said Eric Shanfelt, senior VP-eMedia strategy and development for Penton Media.

"Is there an opportunity for b-to-b publishers here?" Shanfelt asked. "Yes. First, there is an opportunity to provide searches of information not easily found using the general search engines—normalized data, for example.

"Second, to provide full-text searches of an editorially filtered subset of Web sites relevant to a specific industry—in other words, filtering out the junk."

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