In Vertical Search, One Size Does Not Fit All
Vertical search has had its fair share of hype. Yet, for publishers, vertical search does indeed make sense as both a revenue generator and legitimate research tool. And targeted search marketing has certainly been proven as a viable revenue model. Magazines inherently serve a niche, which is a vertical search engine's specialty, serving up results from a predefined market segment. Publishers can pool their own content along with competitor information, association research, vendor Web sites, government bodies, the list goes on. But cutting support of a vertical search engine after it launches will not work. Nor does mimicking another publisher's model. An ongoing commitment needs to meet a number of key benchmarks or the whole thing will unravel.
Stay on Target
ALM launched Law.com's Quest vertical search engine in June after recognizing that the legal industry was missing a search tool that served the niche. "We wanted to not only expose more ALM content, we also felt that there wasn't a good vertical search tool that would help people find relevant results," says Jill Windwer, vice president of Law.com.
The search tool was pre-populated with content from ALM's own network of over 30 Web sites along with content from 450 law firm sites and 800 law blogs. That content list, however, will continue to get tweaked as the search tool matures. "We're still in the beginning stages and one of the things we've added is the ability for people to click a button that says 'suggest a site,' because we want our users to tell us where they want to search," says Windwer.
"One thing publishers have to do well in order to be successful at vertical search is the user interface, what content you index and how you structure it," says Bill Furlong, president of Search Channel, a vendor that builds vertical search engines (but not ALM's). "You need to know what buckets of information are important to the users. It's very different than a Google interface. Google is called the 'one-box' where everything is piled into one results field."
Accordingly, the results page may be broken down according to sponsor content, your own content pages, and then Web site content from outside your own branded sites. But do some research and determine how your user base prefers to search. "Organize according to how that market wants to find content," says Furlong.
Windwer turned to internal expertise to make sure the right content was crawled and represented via Quest. "We have a lot of reporters and editors and business people who understand what our users want and they made recommendations as to which sites we should be crawling," she says.
"You have to have a commitment to traffic building," says Furlong. Just because you launch a vertical search engine doesn't mean users will come. As such, a publisher does not necessarily need to meet a minimum traffic requirement for the model to work. A one percent click rate on only 5,000 monthly searches is still 50 clicks;a number many b-to-b advertisers would be happy with. But a publisher's market does need to know that it's available. "You've got to spend money in marketing;whether it's SEO or PPC or print advertising, but you have to have a sustained marketing effort behind it," adds Furlong.
Windwer says that Law.com's Quest is built on a CPM revenue model. However, for now, the search pages are sold on a sponsorship model. Founding sponsor West is currently sponsoring results pages. "It will be based on a CPM model, but it isn't right now simply because it's so new," she says. "Until we've been up and running for a while and we actually know how many people are looking at the pages everyday, it's hard to sell on a CPM model."
Furlong says that CPMs for vertical search pages is on the high-end, up to $300 per thousand. "That's certainly higher than on-site advertising and probably more akin to newsletter advertising," he says.
But CPM is certainly not the only model to use, and some revenue models work better than others according to the market served. "Deployments have different ad models. Some are cost-per-click, some are fixed fee, some are category-driven, others are keyword driven," says Furlong. "So the one size-fits-all doesn't work in vertical search. Google charges cost-per-click, meaning an advertiser doesn't pay anything until a click happens. In b-to-b and some consumer niches you can't make much money doing that."
Array of Revenue Models
Vertical search has received its fair share of hype, and disappointment as well. But there are a number of revenue models - choose the wrong one and it could backfire.
- Cost-Per-Click - The higher the unique visitor counts the more likely this model will succeed.
- CPM - Similar in approach to standard display advertising models.
- Fixed Fee or Sponsorship -A company pays a monthly fee to be included in search results.
- Enhanced Listings - Paid inclusion in a directory-style listing.
- Keyword Sponsorship -A vendor pays a fee to own a set of keywords. Anytime their keywords are searched, an ad pops up just like they do on Google.