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Chapter 8. Optimizing for Vertical Search
This chapter will focus on strategies for optimizing your website for the vertical search offerings
from Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. We will also spend some time on YouTube, which in January
2009 became the second largest search engine on the Web. First we will look at the data for
how vertical search volume compares to regular web search. The data in Table 8-1 comes from
Hitwise, and shows the top 20 Google domains as of May 2006, which is one year before the
advent of Universal Search.
TABLE 8-1. Most popular Google properties, May 2006
Google Image Search
Google Video Search
Google Book Search
Google Desktop Search
In May 2006, image search comprised almost 10% of Google search volume. Pair this with the
knowledge that a smaller number of people on the Web optimize their sites properly for image
search (or other vertical search engines) and you can see how paying attention to vertical
search can pay tremendous dividends.
Of course, just getting the traffic is not enough. You also need to be able to use that traffic. If
someone is coming to your site just to steal your image, for example, this traffic is likely not
of value to you. So, although a lot of traffic may be available, you should not ignore the
importance of determining how to engage users with your site. For instance, you could serve
up some custom content for visitors from an image search engine to highlight other areas on
your site that might be of interest, or embed logos/references into your images so that they
carry branding value as they get “stolen” and republished on and off the Web.
Universal Search and Blended Search
In May 2007, Google announced Universal Search, which integrated vertical search results
into main web results.
Thinking of it another way, Google’s web results used to be a kind of vertical search engine
itself, one focused specifically on web pages (and not images, videos, news, blogs, etc.). With
the advent of Universal Search, Google changed the web page search engine into a search
engine for any type of online content. Figure 8-1 shows some examples of Universal Search
results, starting with a Google search on iphone.
FIGURE 8-1. Search results for “iphone”
Notice the video results (labeled “Video results for iphone”) and the news results (labeled
“News results for iphone”). This is vertical search being incorporated right into traditional web
search results. Figure 8-2 shows the results for a search on i have a dream.
Right there in the web search results, you can click on a video and watch the famous Martin
Luther King, Jr., speech. You can see another example of an embedded video by searching on
one small step for man as well.
OPTIMIZING FOR VERTICAL SEARCH
FIGURE 8-2. Search results for “i have a dream”
The other search engines (Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Ask) moved very quickly to follow suit. As
a result, the industry uses the generic term Blended Search for this notion of including vertical
search data in web results.
The Opportunity Unleashed
As we noted at the beginning of this chapter, the opportunity in vertical search was significant
before the advent of Universal Search and Blended Search. However, that opportunity was not
fully realized because many (in fact, most) users were not even aware of the vertical search
properties. With the expansion of Blended Search, the opportunities for vertical search have
However, the actual search volume for http://images.google.com has dropped a bit, as shown in
Table 8-2, which lists data from Hitwise for February 2009.
TABLE 8-2. Most popular Google properties, February 2009
Google Book Search
Google Docs & Spreadsheets
Picasa by Google
Google Desktop Search
Google Groups 2 Beta
OPTIMIZING FOR VERTICAL SEARCH
Google Web Accelerator
This drop is most likely driven by the fact that image results get returned within regular web
search, and savvy searchers are entering specific queries that append leading words such as
photos, images, and pictures to their search phrases when that is what they want.
For site owners, this means new opportunities to gain visibility in the SERPs. By adding a blog,
releasing online press releases to authoritative wire services, uploading video to sites such as
YouTube, and adding a Google Local listing, businesses increase the chances of having search
result listings that may directly or indirectly drive traffic to their sites.
It also means site owners must think beyond the boundaries of their own websites. Many of
these vertical opportunities come from one-time engagements or small additional efforts to
maximize the potential of activities that are already being performed.
Optimizing for Local Search
Search engines have sought to increase their advertiser base by moving aggressively into
providing directory information. Applications such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Local, and Bing
Maps have introduced disruptive technology to local directory information by mashing up
maps with directory listings, reviews/ratings, satellite images, and 3D modeling—all tied
together with keyword search relevancy. This area of search is still in a lot of flux as
evolutionary changes continue to come hard and fast. However, these innovations have
excited users, and the mapping interfaces are growing in popularity as a result.
Despite rapid innovation in search engine technology, the local information market is still
extremely fractured. There is no single dominant provider of local business information on the
Internet. According to industry metrics, online users are typically going to multiple sources to
locate, research, and select local businesses. Traditional search engines, local search engines,
online Yellow Pages, newspaper websites, online classifieds, industry-specific “vertical”
directories, and review sites are all sources of information for people trying to find businesses
in their area.
This fractured nature of online local marketing creates considerable challenges for
organizations, whether they’re a small mom and pop business with only a single location or a
large chain store with outlets across the country.
Yet, success in these efforts is critical. The opportunity for local search is huge. More than any
other form of vertical search, local search results have come to dominate their place in web
search. For example, Figure 8-3 shows the results for a search on minneapolis rental cars.
FIGURE 8-3. Local search results example
The regular web search results are not even above the fold. This means that if you are not in
the local search database, you are probably not getting any traffic from searches similar to this
Obviously, the trick is to rank for relevant terms, as most of you probably don’t offer rental
cars in Minneapolis. But if your business has a local component to it, you need to play the local
Foundation: Check Your Local Listings
Today, literally thousands of online directories and websites offer up guides to local businesses.
So, if you have a local business or a chain of shops, where do you start?
Directories can be built from the local phone company’s database information, but no one
phone company covers the entire country. Because of this, companies that host nationwide
directories are primarily getting their content from data aggregators to form the foundation of
their guides. Data aggregators build their content from a variety of sources, such as local area
Yellow Pages, to have information that is as comprehensive as possible.
Three top aggregators exist for U.S. business listings: InfoUSA, Acxiom, and Amacai, as shown
in Figure 8-4.
OPTIMIZING FOR VERTICAL SEARCH
FIGURE 8-4. Aggregators of business listings
The first step in managing the online presence of local companies is to check and update the
business’s listing information in each of these main aggregators. Ensure that the address
information, phone numbers, fax numbers, and any other contact information are correct.
It is also a good idea to check/update your listing information in the top Yellow Pages directory
sites, vertical directories (directories that are apropos for your industry), and top local search
engines. But how do you decide what the top local information sites are?
As of this book’s printing, the best guide for Internet Yellow Pages, vertical directories, and
local search engines is the Local Search Guide provided by the Yellow Pages Association. Check
your listings in each of the sites listed in the guide, and update where necessary.
Of the search engines listed in the guide, you’ll focus primarily on their local search or map
search sections, and you’ll want to look for how to add/update/edit your listings in them. For
instance, you can find the interface for updating listings in the Google, Yahoo!, and Bing search
engines at the following URLs:
• Google Local Business Center: http://www.google.com/local/add
• Yahoo! Local: http://listings.local.yahoo.com/
• Bing Local Listing Center: https://ssl.bing.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx
Google and Microsoft offer methods for validation using automated phone and fax systems.
Yahoo! offers a paid service in which the business pays for data maintenance and then gets
direct control over its listings.
The major advantage that these systems offer is that you are validating your data directly with
the search engines themselves. You can bet that they will treat this as highly trusted data. If
the address you validate directly with them is 39 Temple Street and the InfoUSA address is 41
Temple Street, they are probably going to use the 39 Temple Street address.
Additional local info guides
Search engines are not the only source for local business information. Some of the more
notable alternatives include the following.
Additional local online Yellow Pages. In addition to the online directories listed in the Local
Search Guide, check to see that you’ve also updated your information in any local directory
sites that are independent of the Local Search Guide lists. Other Yellow Pages guides may be
dominant for your area but may not be listed. Check the printed phone books delivered in the
area where your business is located, and see whether they have URLs printed on their covers
where you can audit/update your information.
Additional vertical directory sites. The Local Search Guide lists only a handful of vertical
directories, so if your industry isn’t represented in that set, you might do some research to
identify ones appropriate for you, and check them to ensure that your business listing is optimal
Newspapers. Check the sites of the top newspapers in your area and see whether they have
business directories with a good presence for you.
Chambers of commerce. Most U.S. cities have a local chamber of commerce to help promote
businesses in the area, and getting listed within it can be beneficial to you, particularly if the
chamber’s site is optimized for search engines; getting your chamber of commerce listing linked
over to your website can help with your link weight.
Online classifieds and eBay. These sorts of sites can be time-consuming to integrate with, but
users sometimes conduct local-based searches through them for some types of products and
services. Craigslist is the most-used online classifieds site, although there could be more
specialized ones for particular cities or industries. Figure 8-5 shows results from an eBay search
for stuffed animals.
EBay’s advanced search features allow users to search for things offered by sellers in particular
regions/localities. So, for some types of businesses, it could be helpful or worthwhile to list
products on eBay. Listing items through online classified or auction sites might not be good for
improving direct sales, but it could be worthwhile as another channel for advertising to local
Local guides. Loads of local guides are devoted to information about local areas, so search on
your city’s name or zip code and see what sites appear on the first page of results in each of
the main search engines: Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Review the top local guide sites for your
area and assess whether they’re apropos for your business’s information.
Specialty Yellow Pages. Many niche Yellow Pages directories are geared toward particular
demographic groups—for instance, special interest groups or directories in other languages.
Consider integrating with the ones that are right for you and your business. Association with
these specialized guides may position you for more ready acceptance by the end users of those
OPTIMIZING FOR VERTICAL SEARCH
FIGURE 8-5. Online classified sites
guides, because it sends them a clear message that you value their interests and are more
directly sympathetic to their needs and desires. Here are some examples:
• Christian Yellow Pages
• Jewish Yellow Pages
• Black Business Planet
• National Black Yellow Pages
• National Green Pages
• Indian Yellow Pages
• Hispanic Yellow Pages
• Dog-friendly businesses
Introduction to Local Business Profiles
Many online directories and local search engines are adding more dimensions of information
onto a business’s basic listing. Providing as much detailed information about your company as
possible through these profiles could be beneficial in terms of converting users of those sites
into new customers for you. As you pass through each local search engine and directory to
check and update your listings, notice what other opportunities may be available to you to
enhance your business’s information (see Figure 8-6).
FIGURE 8-6. Role of local business profiles
Such enhanced profile information can include things like hours/days of operation, products
and manufacturers carried, special offers, years in business, photos, video, slogans, business
categories, keywords, certifications, menus, amenities, and payment methods, among others.
Add the URL pointing to your company’s website to any/all of these local information websites.
Nearly all local information websites NoFollow their links, so they do not have a direct SEO
benefit, but you do want to make it easy for visitors to these websites to get to your site.
You’ll notice that some directories and search engines are compiling all of this profile
information from a variety of sources, so be aware that information supplied to one local
information site could automatically begin appearing in many other places.
We will discuss the subject of optimizing your local business profiles in much more detail
Local Agency Management
Some companies may be overwhelmed by the prospect of updating and monitoring
information through the many avenues we listed earlier. For a small business with just a few
locations, the main work is in the initial integration and updates—thereafter you just need to
periodically check and intervene as necessary. (You don’t have to do your updating all at once.
You could make a list of the most important online sites where your information may appear
and methodically work through them as time allows.)
OPTIMIZING FOR VERTICAL SEARCH
But checking and updating information for dozens to thousands of locations would not really
be feasible to do by hand. In those cases, it would probably be sufficient to just focus on the
top Yellow Pages, the business information aggregators, and the top search engines—from
those information sources, your proper information would likely trickle down to all the rest.
If your company has a substantial number of brick-and-mortar stores, you could contact each
of the top Yellow Pages, aggregators, and search engines, and offer to supply them with a
periodic feed of your business listings.
If you’re still overwhelmed at the prospect of handling the update duties we previously
outlined, a number of companies have sprung up to provide a management service for local
profile information; if your business has many locations, you should review the cost/benefit
of outsourcing the management of your data to one of these specialists. Here are the top three:
• R.H. Donnelly
• GetListed, which has some additional DIY options
Optimizing Your Website for Local Search Engines
If you have been around for a while, your business probably is already included in the local
search engines, since they compile data from the aggregators and other online directories. Once
your business’s listing is loaded into the local engines, you must determine how to get your
business to rank higher when users search for your industry’s keywords. On the next few pages,
we will outline things you can do on your website to prepare it for better rankings in local
All of the basic SEO factors can come into play and can help to influence your rankings. These
factors include having good, specific text in each page’s title, H1 tags, meta description, page
content, IMG ALT attributes, inbound links, and so forth. But some things are specific to local
search, such as the following:
• If your company has multiple locations, it is not necessary to have a standalone website
or subdomain (e.g., loc1.example.com, loc2.example.com, loc3.example.com, etc.) for each
outlet. In fact, it is probably better if you don’t, since each business location would likely
produce similar website content. However, it probably would be helpful for you to create
a separate profile web page on your site for each distinct location. Many sites with chain
outlets will list all outlets on one page—that is not optimal. It is better to have one page
be about one store location and another about a different location so that you can leverage
all the on-page elements to create a page focused on that location.
• Have your page title, H1 tags, and content include the business name, type of the business,
and location name—for example, “Acme Café: French Restaurant in Boston, MA.” For
multiple locations, make the title different on each location’s page. Include the
neighborhood, street address, area nicknames, and other location-distinguishing