How to Choose Specialized Search Engines

Robb Lewis, vice president of products for Retrevo, and an expert in SEO optimization, joined Ziff Davis Enterprise Senior Technology Editor Wayne Rash for a recent interview. A transcript follows.

Wayne Rash: If you're in business-and obviously Google may not be doing it for you when you need to have a more specialized result in searching the Internet for things that are important to your business-how can you use a specialized search engine?

Robb Lewis: So Google is just, let's be honest, pretty much a good starting point and everyone typically will start there because it's on their desktop and a lot of people's home pages. However, when you do a search on Google to start, let's say you don't know where to go from there, they'll give you various search results. The challenge is, they have results based on their page ranking, and a lot of those page rankings are based on references, referral links to those other sites.

And what ends up happening is a lot of these various sites, whether they're publication blogs, what have you, a lot of these sites will reference shopping engines such as PriceGrabber and and so forth. And your results for the first few pages seem to be primarily shopping or price engines, but they don't help you find the resources of, What should I buy?

So, great if you already know what you want, but if you don't know what you want and you need to learn quickly, especially in categories you don't know anything about, the price engines are really not a good place to start. So where Retrevo and other vertical searches come in is we take a certain segment and we specialize in it and we go a lot deeper.

Rash: A specialized search engine will provide what kind of facilities for a business that you don't get from something more general?

Lewis: Typically-and it depends on the specialized search engine-but typically, they go much deeper into the analysis of the information. Some search engines will classify information and break it into various channels. Other search engines will have human intervention to validate some of the search, so it's a combination of natural search as well as some editorial impact of finding certain sites and when someone searches on a certain keyword referencing the site.

Rash: So you're in business and let's say you want to do something like-you're involved with procurement. You know you've got to out and buy 100 new servers but you don't really know which servers you want to buy, you don't how much you want to pay for them and you don't know where to get them. Will a vertical search facility help you figure all of that out?

Lewis: They actually will either help you figure it out or consolidate information into that centralized, if you will, vertical search or portal. So it makes it a lot easier for you, whereas a general search engine, as you search on those terms, many searches will come and some of them are related to what you want and others are not. In a vertical search state they will bring the information to you or they will bring all of these sites that contain the information that will help you make that decision and they'll put it into nice formats or ways that people can find the information easily.

Rash: So how do you find a vertical search engine that's going to meet your needs?

Lewis: Well, interestingly enough, a lot of vertical search companies will work with partners and blogs that typically write about information that's specific to what they cover. So a lot of it is partner referral-type of links from blogs. But it's interesting that most of them still get their traffic from Google.

Rash: So in other words, if you're looking to buy 100 servers you would look for a server search engine on Google and you'd find a search engine that would specialize in that.

Lewis: Yes, that would be one way to do it. Or what most people typically put in is specifically what they're looking for and they'll see results come back. So once they get their starting point, though, whether they go from Google or whether they go from some blog that they happen to subscribe to, they typically see a cross-reference or promotional link.