Vertical Creep

So, I went to SES in San Jose again. What a blast. Not only were the sessions great, but Yahoo rented Paramount Great American for a night. After that, it was the Ask Jeeves get together. The next night was at the Googleplex. Wednesday was Webmasterradio.fm, text-link-ads, MonsterCommerce, and Incisive Media. While the parties were great, the highlight for me was presenting at 2 sessions.

The first session I presented at was moderated by none other than Danny Sullivan. He had predicted in 2003 that "Invisible tabs" would be used to show users the content they really wanted. Well, now it's 2005 and this is starting to happen, so this session was showing how it's happening and what the impact is for Search Marketing.

Greg Jarboe, president of SEOPR, started out by showing some of the ways in which news items (his specialty) were starting to show up above the organic results. Some of the engines even show pictures of the person in the article. He showed example after example of news related items showing up before the organics. For example, searching for George Bush will give you news results first. He also pointed out that traditional media outlets (newspapers, magazines, and the like) don't understand search optimization. It's easy for a smaller firm right now to get their stories showing up instead of the big guys. The older ones typically just put the same story they print online, so it's not very keyword focused. Of course, there is more than just news showing up. Greg showed us how search engines are now delivering maps, pictures, local results, product information as well as news headlines when they're relevant to a searcher.

After showing us what they're doing, he then showed us some stats that were specifically created for him by LeAnn Prescott of Hitwise. She was able to track that Google and Yahoo! were almost equal, pushing 7 and 8% click rates to their vertical results respectively. MSN and Ask Jeeves lagged behind, sending 4% and 2% of their traffic. This means that if you're not going vertical, you're likely going invisible in many cases.

Next up was Gord Hotchkiss from Enquiro. He showed eye tracking studies showing that the verticals are getting a lot of eyes when they show up. Again, if you're not going vertical, where are you? Yes, the organics still see a lot of traffic, but the verticals are in prime position and could easily give that little "extra" you're looking for if properly utilized.

Next, I gave a case study and a few tips. While we're currently only seeing about 350 orders/month as a direct result of the vertical creep through Google, I don't think there are too many marketers that would say 350 orders is something to forget about. That's a pretty good chunk of orders for someone with as few product lines as we have. Sure, many products never see a click. Sure, some products see a lot of clicks and no sales. Sure, it's tough to really understand this brand new technology. However, since in the case of Google it's free to send a feed to it's something that you can try out and experiment without losing a ton of money.

It's easy to think outside the box with Froogle (product search onebox results.) For example, adding in "Also called: sawzall, saws all, sawz all, recip saw, reciprocating saw" to all of our reciprocating saws helps those show up for a variety of searches. I was trying to do the sawzall stuff only on Milwaukee, but I've seen some searches for dewalt sawzall that have made me think it should be included on all of them. Since it isn't shown but just used for matching, that may be a good strategy.

Another example is that I've created a huge feed for ToolPartsDirect.com with a list of models that each part fits in. As an example, a Google search for "skil hd77m switch" (no quotes needed) shows the correct switch in the product results. That particular switch fits about 40 models which creates data that I don't want a user to see (overwhelming), so that's description data with a name of simply "Skil switch". Since we can't optimize that product for all 40 models very easily organically, creating a simple feed has given us much more visibility for a huge number of search phrases. Add that data to 46,000 parts in our feed and it gets exciting.

The final strategy that I showed was using Froogle to optimize for singulars when you already have the plurals in the organics. We've used that strategy for a while now, and it's working out fairly well. Sales are good.

After I concluded, Mihir Shah was up. He's the self-proclaimed guy responsible for vertical creep in Yahoo. He gave other compelling reasons why Vertical was a good thing all around. He mentioned that verticals can directly answer questions in the case of sports scores, maps, local results (phone and address) and weather. It can give deeper content from other channels than what you normally see in the results. Examples of this include news headlines and images served directly on the SERPs page. He also pointed out that Vertical can increase the freshness of the SERPs, allowing up-to-the minute news to be listed, blog searches, etc. The reason being that these are smaller, more frequently updated indexes.

My take on the whole matter: Verticals are expanding the SERPs beyond 10 blue links and adding relevance. They represent additional opportunities for smart marketers, and they're only going to become more and more noticeable as the relevance proves itself. Danny Sullivan predicts that at some point Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and the rest will just flip a switch and the verticals will show when relevant, leaving the web search as a secondary option, sort of a "See also". He's been right many times in the past, so I wouldn't doubt it one bit if that is in the not so distant future. When that happens, many marketers will be scrambling, but those of us that are prepared will be sitting pretty.

Brian.

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