Decline in Searches at Vertical Sites Giving Way to More Searches At Google & Bing

Comscore has an interesting post detailing a decline in “vertical search” (travel, local, product, jobs) queries for the first time in several years. This decline in searches at vertical sites has been mirrored by an attendant increase of share of searches at the general search sites.

From the article:

This trend is illustrated by the tremendous growth of non-search engine search entities during that time. In August 2011, of the 27 billion searches conducted on desktops in the United States, more than one-third occurred on non-search engines. Search on sites like Amazon, eBay, and Facebook has been growing faster than (and therefore gaining market share from) the core search engines for several years. But in the past year, this vertical search market actually contracted by 6% after several years of strong growth.

Vertical Search Giving Way to Core Search

He went on to conclude that with recent acquistions (like ITA and Zagat) and improved local and travel search results this trend is likely to continue:

As these user improvements manifest themselves in the search results and searchers have increasingly begun to rely on them for their more vertically-oriented search needs, we are finally beginning to see a significant shift in the market. Growth in vertical searches is now actually conceding ground to the core search engines in a reversal of the past few years.

Now, don’t go taking this as the beginning of the end of non-search entities. Their business is still alive and well and will continue to serve a critical function for specialized searching behavior. But increasingly, search engines are improving the quality of their results in a way that is helping to fill the void once created by searches with vertical intent.

What do you think? Will Google and Bing continue to grab share from other local & vertical sites as their search results improved? What does it portend for those sites?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
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7 thoughts on “Decline in Searches at Vertical Sites Giving Way to More Searches At Google & Bing”

  1. Mike:

    I think Facebook has an opportunity to have explosive growth in this arena. It would take some steps, but my simple anecdotal review of a number of extraordinarily high quality reviews suggests that for the best advice on where to shop, what to buy, and where to eat nothing beats facebook for reviews and high quality information.

    Every so often as I scroll through my facebook page I find the absolutely best reviews and comments directed to those whom I follow. They ask about a certain local service or restaurant or product and their friends jump in with detailed explicit suggestions. These are quality comments from people whom they trust. They beat anonymous reviews from people you don’t know. The reviews can include tremendous depth and detail and allow for back and forth questions.

    Facebook is an incredible source for soliciting help and suggestions from those you know. Search engines can’t match it…..YET.

    Google and Bing are both taking shots at it. Google has just rolled out Google+ which, if its growth approximates facebook can offer all those qualities. Bing actually shows what your facebook friends think of different websites in its results.

    Both are taking stabs at this…but for the time being nothing approximates facebook for this unbelievable depth, and quality….AND ITS NOT EVEN A REVIEW SITE!!!!!!

    This anecdotal experience has little to do with those hard facts and stats presented above…but if I wanted in depth advice I’d use the model in facebook to solicit comments from those I know. Its a great example.

  2. @Earl

    My research indicates that when someone is going to buy something at a local shop they are more likely to ask friends offline and check out reviews BEFORE they check with their friends on facebook…. that could be age dependent and could very well change over time. But for now, Google delivers.

  3. I believe that the change in how reviews can be posted (going to non-anonymous reviews required) may be the killer app that changes the way the way we use the internet, and search.

    Trustworthy advice and information is what most people want, and the type of search that delivers that, will ultimately be the type of search that wins out.

    The early promise of local search was that it could have at least some of the facts right (the location or address). It did not take long for the general search sites to lose control of that.

    I believe that search, as we have put up with it, will change until it becomes useful, honest and accountable. People want information and advice they can trust. What ever search company finally gets that, and puts some order and reliability to their search results will win out. I’m waiting to see what company has the courage and fore site to do it correctly. That will be the big search winner.

  4. Just today I responded to a Facebook friend’s request for a recommendation of a local travel agent. I think it’s quite likely that they eventually find a way to make local search work for them. Just imagine if FB had a search function where you typed in Plumber and it pulled all the plumbing comments of your friends over the last 5 years.

  5. Google has been repeating this for years: we want middle-men out. Vertical sites are in fact middle-men. So the trend will continue.
    Interesting they treat Facebook as a vertical site. I would treat it as some other type of platform. Not sure what to call it, but definitely not a vertical.

  6. Guess it really depends on the Vertical we are talking about. The big ones travel, restaurants, bars, and the like serve large volumes of customers across all demographics and therefore illicit a large swath of user generated content for the big search sites to aggregate and rank results upon. The specialized verticals not so well though. How many folks take the time review locksmiths (other than the locksmiths themselves), exterminators, lawyers, doctors/ dentists, etc. This is where the growth in vertical search will continue to play out.

    At some point in time the gains will not justify the costs for the big search engines to continue taking away the “middle men” as someone above noted.

    Overall I think there is a trade-off between quantity of information and quality of information. This goes to the heart of the Yelp argument regarding Google’s use of reviews and is the underlying argument found in the first comment above regarding the value of Facebook.

    For a real world example; we are traveling to Portland this weekend and are in search of a good nightclub. I first went to Google and found a bunch of garbage results that even included Exotic Clubs. I then went to Yelp and found much more useful results. Quantity and speed versus quality and time.

  7. In the travel vertical, Google has made major improvements by showing prices and reviews for hotel searches.

    Previously, a traveler may have found a hotel website but had to pull up reviews and prices in separate searches, often on sites like Expedia or Travelocity.

    After the recent changes, a traveler will stay on Google much longer since they now link to Google reviews, but still easily link to Tripadvisor or Travelpod reviews.

    Travel websites can still receive some of this traffic since Google now offers ads that are placed on top of the link to the owner site. If done smartly, this seems like a win-win for Google and the travel websites.

    – Google can drive more qualified paid search traffic to travel websites since showing the room rate pre-qualifies travelers to a degree. If someone doesn’t want to spend $250, they won’t click on the ad showing that rate.

    – Travel websites should not show ads when they don’t have inventory for a particular hotel. Otherwise they’d spend money on pulling a traveler they can’t convert.

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