The Value of Vertical Search for B2B Marketers

Today it seems like every owner of a decent size database now calls itself a “specialized vertical search engine.” I suppose there is some clever (if not misleading) marketing logic in positioning oneself as such given the wholesale adoption of search as a business tool, and of good search results as a very cost-effective form of inquiries, leads or orders when a search-based marketing program is done well.

Search is indeed the new cognitive framework for buyers of industrial and technical products. The virtually complete migration to online product discovery and research in the engineering, technical and scientific markets is well documented. Accordingly, industrial marketers have begun to radically shift their marketing mix to online channels, and those who haven’t will do so shortly.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

The ability of specialized online marketplaces to generate intelligence-rich, contactable and highly measurable sales leads is nothing short of profound, and those marketers who are already on this bandwagon have been reaping the benefits.

A true vertical search engine is based on three fundamental principles.

First, a vertical search engine is all about context. In this regard a good vertical engine can divine the user’s probable intent, unlike a mass market engine. For example, when an engineer queries for “gyros” they are not expecting Greek sandwiches to be returned in the search results. They expect the context to be all about engineering.

The second principle is organization. A vertical engine should ideally be organized to align with workflow and job tasks of the user. Think of an “information cockpit” for a specialized user group.

The third principle is that of access. By this we mean that a good vertical engine must be complete, and that means that it must provide the user with access to content from both the open, hidden and dark Web. The index of a vertical engine therefore must contain hard-to-find (hidden) content and important content off limits to mass market crawlers.

Staying Focused

There is an evolving point of view that skillful use of specialized vertical search engines can be perhaps the most important strategy for companies in the industrial sector today. The reason is simple: B2B audiences — especially engineering, technical and scientific audiences — have aggregated on the Web, and are increasingly discovering good vertical search engines that focus on the domains they care about.

The B2B audience is on the Web. It is where most of your leads will come from. In many regards it’s simple common sense: fish where the fish are.

Another great misnomer is that clicks are leads. Clicks far too often remain “faceless” and uncontactable. Clicks are not worth much unless you are converting them, and to do that you must first know who they are and if they are qualified. Maximizing your presence on vertical search engines by sending visitors to a landing page where you can offer them something of value for visiting and make it possible from them to tell you who they are helps convert these clicks into bonafide leads and customers.

True vertical search engines give industrial marketers the ability to put their message directly in front of a highly targeted audience, without all the waste. In short, they’re paying for a highly targeted, active user base that allows them to generate actionable results quickly, rather than accumulate a rather useless pile of Web statistics. The bottom line is: if your job was to find a needle, and find it now, you shouldn’t go to a giant haystack with needles buried somewhere in it. It is better to go to a pile of needles.

Jeffrey M. Killeen is chairman and CEO of GlobalSpec, a vertical search, information services and e-publishing company headquartered in Troy, N.Y.

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