Vertical search is completely missing in some SEO strategies. It’s no surprise, really. Most keyword volume forecasting tools don’t distinguish which search vertical the search volume belongs to and most SEO advice focuses on tactics to achieve general search rankings.
Not including vertical search in an SEO strategy means you could be missing out on a whole world of search.
A vertical search engine is a niche search engine that focuses on a particular segment of online content. Most of us use them every day – websites like Kayak for travel, Podscope for podcasts or Yelp for local business.
General web search engines like Google have been providing search in verticals for a long time. You’ll know those verticals as searches for images, videos, shopping and maps.
Websites that rely on location-based searches (like restaurants or plumbers) have been doing map (local) SEO for a long time. They had little choice. Location-based businesses were one of the first to get forced onto a new vertical by general search engines.
Once upon a time, if you searched for “plumbers in London” or “restaurants in New York,” the top ranks would be restaurants or plumbers, not directories (vertical search engines). Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Most search engines serve the same purpose. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Google, Bing or someone else. If location matters, a list of hundreds of websites ranked in the order of who has the best SEO agency isn’t useful or accessible.
The outcome was that general search engines favored niche search engines for top ranks on general/all results pages if the search term contained a location and service.
If a search for a local service is likely to generate lots of individual providers, it’s better suited to a vertical search engine that specializes in that niche. If location really matters, it’s better suited to a map.
A vast majority of broadly qualified top ranks for non-location businesses, such as SaaS or online training, are occupied by vertical search engines. If it’s not search engines that occupy those positions, it’s best or top lists, which kind of serve the same purpose: They organize information on a particular niche in one place.
Although this is old news, I still know a lot of SEOs trying to achieve top, broadly qualified ranks that are destined to go to vertical search engines. Unless you have a large budget, it’s better to focus on long-tail keywords and broad keywords that aren’t as likely to be allocated to vertical search engines. For the positions that are occupied by vertical search engines, you’ve decided not to win… if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.
You can certainly compete with the vertical search engines, as I mentioned earlier, if you have a large budget. It’s not easy because you’re going against a preference for them. The following case will explain. “Conference venue London” is one of those searches that bring up vertical search engines. At the time of writing, my client, Congress Centre in London (a conference venue in London), is ranked number 6 for “conference venues in London.” It’s the only venue in the top 21 positions for that keyword and it even ranks above some vertical search engines.
I also work for a vertical search engine whose specialty is event venues in London and the United Kingdom. It also occupies page one ranks for terms like “conference venue hire in London.” After working on both types of sites, targeting the same keyword, I can vouch that the vertical search engine was twice as easy to rank as the venue, and much quicker too. It’s the type of site favored for those ranks. The positions are practically reserved for websites like theirs.
There are endless examples to prove this, so I’ll finish making my point about the preference for vertical search engines for broad keywords with a search for “restaurant management software.” At the time of writing, only one of the top seven results was a service provider; the rest are vertical search engines or top or best lists.
Certain verticals are more suited to particular search terms or types of websites. Instead of pursuing top ranks in general search engines, put yourself in your potential customers’ shoes and consider how they search and look for information.
There are small to medium fashion retailers who spend their entire SEO budget targeting shopping, video and image rankings. The major retailers want to rank in the general rankings. They spend a lot of money achieving ranks for broadly qualified terms like “men’s suits.” Smaller operations can’t compete with that. Some retailers have realized clothing is an image sale and people will search for clothing using image-centered verticals.
I also know of wedding venues, training providers, cosmetics companies and beauty salons that do better on other verticals than the general.
Those other verticals are often less competitive and just as widely used as the general vertical. Sites like Pinterest or YouTube can even provide an authority and ranking potential in image and video verticals for content you publish on their networks. You can piggyback off authoritative sites like those. I’ve seen people achieve top ranks for their content in video and image search without doing any textbook SEO.
Some friends of mine found their wedding venue using an image search, a colleague of mine enrolled on a training course after a video search and I don’t know many people that prefer going to individual shopping websites instead of using Google’s shopping vertical. As I write, I’m planning a holiday using image search, starting with the search “best beaches in Spain.” If you’re a tourism bureau trying to promote your area, it’d be a good idea to create an image gallery of your local beaches and optimize for image search on the keyword “best beaches in Spain.”
If you are that tourism bureau (or anyone else thinking about targeting the image search vertical) the video below from John Mueller at Google tells you exactly what to do.
Next time you make an SEO plan. Imagine where your customer’s journey starts, where it ends and what they do in between. Think about the keywords they search throughout and about the search verticals they will use.
When looking at your typical customer journeys, imagine how they use search engines to find information and form opinions. The outcome of good SEO is to be found by your target customers again and again until they are convinced your brand is, without doubt, the best provider. It’s highly likely those customers will collect information from several sources to make decisions. It’s just as likely they will use different verticals as part of the same search journey.
I mentioned earlier there will be some keywords you have decided not to win. It’s quite easy to identify who occupies those ranks and how you get on to their sites. When you decide to join one, don’t get a junior member of your team to create your profile. These things are search engines in their niche, so I highly recommend getting your SEO team or agency involved. Once you’re on there, make it your business to find out how it works and how its users search and choose from the index. If you understand how it works, you can make sure your site is as optimized on niche vertical search engines as it is on general ones.
Next, you’ll want to decide which search verticals you pursue. One way is researching your market and analyzing what your competitors are doing, but that can take time. If you’re in a hurry, we recommend checking Google Search Console. It defaults to showing “web search” (what I called the general/all results pages) but you can choose between image, video or news. You can compare one vertical with the other as well. Google My Business will tell you how many people have seen your site in a map search.
Your data in Search Console and Google My Business is going to be representative of what you have gotten historically. If you do poorly on images and great on web, that could be because of your strategy and previous performance more than the behavior of your market. It’s still useful, though – if you feel the number of impressions on each vertical is impacted by strategic choice, you can look at click-through rate (CTR) as an indicator of how useful that vertical is for your market compared to others.
Sooner or later, though, you should do that market research. If you want to understand how your customers use search engines to find products and services like yours, there’s nothing better than asking them.