A report released Wednesday suggests that vertical search could become the next major target for online marketers. Meanwhile, another startup company, Become Inc., entered the vertical search field with a beta release of its homegrown Become.com search engine, which draws from 2.2 billion shopping-focused Web pages.
Market analyst Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corp., issued a study that predicts growth in vertical search, particularly as the bid prices for popular keywords on general search engines such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. rise.
Google and Yahoo run the two most popular paid-search programs, where advertisers bid on search terms to trigger sponsored links alongside regular search results.
While New York-based Jupiter Research does not expect a complete shift in focus from broad search engines to vertical ones, it does expect marketers to increasingly look to vertical sites as an alternative for paying rising prices for popular keywords, such as in a product category like "digital cameras," said Jupiter Research analyst Niki Scevak.
"Where we see merchants priced out of Google and Overture … they will reallocate their spending on generic keywords and place them on vertical search engines to get qualified leads that will convert," Scevak said.
Jupiter Research based its report on a finding that 79 percent of the $2.6 billion spent on paid search last year in the United States fit into four categories—retail, financial services, media and entertainment, and travel.
Startup search sites already are heavily pursuing the travel and retail categories. Already this year, Kayak Software Corp. launched its travel search site after earlier gaining an investment from America Online Inc. It competes with SideStep Inc., QIXO Inc. Mobissimo, and Yahoos beta of FareChase.
Newcomer Become.com, of Mountain View, Calif., is part of a wave in the retail field. It is joining shopping-comparison sites such as Shopping.com and Shopzilla.com as well as growing shopping services from Google and Yahoo.
But Become.coms founders say they are taking a different approach by initially focusing on delivering more refined and relevant results to consumers who are researching products.
Become.coms beta, released Wednesday, returns results based on an index of Web pages from 22 million U.S.-based shopping sites. The results include links to product reviews, buying guides and articles.
The engine is trying to address gaps in general search engines and comparison-shopping sites, said Michael Yang, founder and CEO of Become.com. Basic Web search often returns results unrelated to shopping, while comparison sites typically provide only pricing and merchant information, he said.
"General search engines do not provide any context of the user intent," Yang said. "[And] todays comparison shopping sites do not have crawler technology like Google, Yahoo or MSN."
Become.com is using a technology it calls Affinity Index Ranking for determining search rankings. Yang said the ranking algorithms consider both incoming and outgoing links on a Web page and give more weight to links from shopping-related topics.
Yang and co-founder Yeogirl Yun come from a shopping-comparison background. In 1998, they started one of the first online shopping sites, mySimon, which was acquired in 2000 by CNET Networks Inc.
Become.com plans a full launch in mid-2005. Also later this year, it plans to pair its shopping research results with comparison-shopping results. It will allow users to seek both types of results and will begin allowing online merchants to provide data feeds of their products and prices, Yang said.
The company is generating revenue by including Google AdWords sponsored links alongside results. When it moves into comparison shopping, Become.com also plans to offer a program where merchants pay for leads, Yang said.
Become.com and other shopping-focused sites should have little trouble attracting advertisers, since online retailers are avid search-engine marketers, said Jupiter Researchs Scevak.
"Theres a sophisticated advertising base that is willing to spend on leads from search-based sites," Scevak said. "The challenge is in building the consumer usage."