Business and professional users searching for work-related information on the web are having a hard time finding needed data through general search engines like Google and Yahoo. A 2006 study by Outsell reported a 31.9 percent failure rate among business users when researching topics on major search engines.
Another recent study by Convera shows that professionals in virtually every industry cannot find important work-related information on the major search engines. While frustrating for B2B players, this current situation represents a significant opportunity for vertical search engines (VSEs).
Why General Search Engines Fail B2B Professionals
General Internet search engines were not designed to be used as business tools, which is partly why only four out of 10 professionals surveyed by Convera claimed to be very satisfied with results when using them:
General search engines rely strongly on the popularity theory that rewards sites with authoritative inbound links. Website popularity and keyword relevancy (among other variables) help determine rankings. The relevancy model works well for consumer search, and the general population usually finds what they are looking for on page one of search results. For instance, a search for Toyota Camry brings up 2,630,000 results on Google and 6,740,000 on Yahoo (at time of writing). So there is no scarcity of information on Google and Yahoo when consumers are looking for product information.
Professionals, on the other hand, get a mixed bag. They are used to instant success with their consumer searches, but when it comes to looking up business information, it's a different story. Here's what professionals do when they don't find what they need, and they don't give up easy.
The Alternative: VSEs
Instead of fighting the Google and Yahoo wars, B2B firms should find better results by searching for and submitting sites to VSEs and Directories. These outlets put people directly in front of targeted B2B buyers through their customized algorithms and search strings. Good VSEs also provide enhanced services such as editorials, custom blogs and banners. Some will even allow marketers to blog on approved topics, which makes great user-generated content.
The past year has seen a number of new VSEs targeted at specific markets, such as the Wholesale industry (full disclosure – I am the head of such Internet properties). These resources offer options that allow professionals to tailor searches according to their own requirements. The most significant trend is that of trade publications developing their own online vertical search destinations for their professional communities. These customized search engines will provide a more relevant search experience for B2B users. When asked about their expectations for these new vertical search resources, nearly 90 percent of professionals indicated they believed such search engines would offer more relevant contact.
Strategies to Use When Leveraging VSEs
When optimizing a site for organic rankings on VSEs, you will be making changes to its structure and content, the same as with general search engines. This will increase the likelihood of higher search engine rankings for your strategic keywords. A Technical Site Review will identify areas for improvement, calling for changes in coding, text content and hyperlinks. A Competitor Analysis can also provide insights in how to beat the competition. Here are some tried and true basic strategies:
Site Content: Content is king in the digital world and a keyword-rich text analysis will help sites get indexed by search spiders. Optimizing each page for two or three targeted keywords, using them in a natural, conversational way throughout the text will make the copy attractive to both visitors and search engines. Keywords should also appear in subheadings as well as early in the body content.
Meta Tags: Meta Tags were abused in the past, but some are still very important. The best ranking results occur when each page on a site contains a unique title and description tag that includes targeted keywords used in the text on that same page. The title should be a sentence of 50 to 70 characters or approximately seven to ten words. The description tag should be a strong marketing statement with call to action if applicable, and include the targeted keywords used in the text on that page.
Links: By employing keywords and ethical linking strategies to obtain links from other sites, a site can boost its visibility with VSEs. The quality of inbound links is more important than the quantity. Outbound links to non-competitive related sites are also valuable for your visitors as well as VSEs.
While the strategies are not different from those used in general search engines, the tactics will most certainly be. A VSE will focus specifically on keywords, tags and links germane to the specific industry it serves – not the mass market. In leveraging VSEs, participants should pay close attention to the most frequently used terms within its market to optimize placement on such search engines.
Today, it appears that general search engines do not adequately serve professionals, leaving them with unmet needs. The advantages of vertical search will go a long way toward providing professionals with relevant business results.
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Jason A. Prescott is CEO of JP Communications, parent company of online wholesale merchandising vertical search engines and directories TopTenWholesale, Wholezilla, OffpriceNetwork and WholesaleU. Prescott launched the B2B vertical search engines to serve the needs of the general merchandise wholesale community by bringing buyers and sellers together. Prescott serves on the education committee of The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and has been a speaker at Search Engine Strategies.
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