Specialist search engines will see growth, competition

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By Carol Krol

Vertical search, including local search, continues to grow and provide opportunities for search companies and publishers, according to data compiled by researcher and audience measurement company Nielsen//NetRatings. Data gleaned from Nielsen//NetRatings’ MegaView Search, its syndicated tracking tool product, revealed users conducting local searches on search engines comprise 24% of all searchers, users shopping are 18% of all searchers, users seeking images are 10% of all searchers and news searchers represent 5.7% of all searchers.

The findings suggest an opportunity for both search engine companies, particularly the specialist engines, and advertisers. "There is room to grow," said Jarvis Mak, director of data and mega-panel analytics at Nielsen//NetRatings. "For example, local search impacts ad sales among those in the Yellow Pages space," he said.

Mak added that in order to find their target audience "advertisers have to understand the trends in how people migrate from offline to online, and they need to shift the ad budget accordingly. You need to know what is going on within each vertical specialty," he said.

While there are a host of specialized engines in existence—local search engines, vertical engines that focus on a specific industry or comparison shopping sites—they will face competition by the major engines, Mak said. "They have to watch out for large search engines that can easily tap into any one of those specialties."

However, given their broad-based businesses, many larger search players have opted, for now, to partner with the vertical engines. "The main advice to the vertical players is to continue to expand on that niche and not to rest on their laurels," Mak said. He added that partnering has become a good opportunity for the specialists.

"In a lot of cases, the broad-based player may not focus on specific specialties because of the investment required." Infospace, for example, provides back-end technology for a number of search engines, including Ask Jeeves, and MSN currently has a partnership with Verizon Superpages to provide local search.

"It works for MSN to provide that capability, and Superpages gets the traffic," Mak said.

Meanwhile, specialty areas haven’t stopped expanding. And search for things such as audio and video may become more prevalent. "There will be a need for continued specialization," he said.

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