Sramana Mitra recently wrote about Google’s Achilles Heel. In her article, she suggested that vertical search engines are Google’s worst vulnerability.
Google has so far stayed focused on horizontal, generic search with a simple, one-bar user interface. And it has brought them a remarkably long way.
However, as users get more sophisticated, they are discovering brands that offer richer user experiences customized to the dynamics of the vertical.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that I’ve been considering a new exercise routine. I’m trying to decide whether I should start running, jogging or walking, so I decide to go to Google and search, “reasons why I should run.” Instead of getting what I’m looking for, I get an article I recently wrote, “Five Reasons Why You Should Run a “Do Follow” Blog.” This of course is fantastic for our website, but it’s not what I was searching for. It’s not until the the third result that I see a related result, “10 reasons why women should run.” That result is certainly closer to what I’m looking for, but I would still be hesitant to click on it, because I’m not a woman.
The remaining results are related to politics — none of which are related to the intention of my search query. That “unrelatedness,” along with close matches that are exclusive (I’m not a woman), is why vertical search engines are the way of the future. Basically, to get better results, I would want to use a vertical search engine. A good example would be a search engine that only focuses on exercise or just running.
However, the problem with vertical search engines is that there are too many of them (or there soon will be), which will create the need for a search engine to find vertical search engines — ridiculous, I know. That problem takes us full circle and back to “do everything” search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Live. So, what’s the solution?
I think the solution is relatively easy, at least from a user interface (UI) perspective. Adding the addition of a category/tag input field could go a long way in returning much more valid results. This of course would wreak havoc on the SEO industry, because it would become even harder (or possibly easier in some cases) to target and track search engine result pages (SERPs). I would envision something as simple as this Google mockup I put together. The first image shows the “hint” language that would go in each input field before the user enters any text, while the second image is an example of the actual search term and subject(s) I would use.
If Google could correctly apply “subjects” (aka categories, tags, etc…) to individual Web pages and entire websites — which I believe they can and already do in some respect — then updating their interface to work similar to my mockup may save them from the vertical search proliferation.