Whether spoken, typed or tapped, search queries are the medium through which consumers discover information and make decisions.

Search is all around us; it is embedded into smartphone devices and is the fulcrum of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital assistants. As search engines develop in sophistication, this relationship with consumers will only strengthen over time.

Moreover, recent research shows that mobile now accounts for as much as 57 percent of total search traffic. Search has become more powerful, dynamic and fragmented.

While this brings some challenges, it also brings great opportunity.
Opportunity knocks

The sheer quantity and variety of content online is necessitating this change.

Almost 45 percent of people watch more than an hour of video online each week on either Facebook or YouTube; Snapchat users share over 500,000 photos every minute; and according to Internet Live Stats, Google processes over 3.5 billion queries every day.
Even a search engine as universal (in many senses) as Google must evolve constantly to ensure it can serve the content its audience craves.

In order to sift through the information at their fingertips and arrive at the right result as quickly as possible, an increasing number of consumers prefer the specialized nature of a vertical search engine. For their part, search engines like Google are at pains to deal with the fragmented nature of both content and consumer demand within their own ecosystem.

At the crossroads of these trends, the rise of the vertical search engine has organically occurred — and it has significant implications for all marketers.
What is a vertical search engine?

Put simply, a vertical search engine focuses on one specific industry or type of content.

Common examples would include a travel search engine like Kayak, real estate site Trulia, or the image-based interface of Pinterest.

The term “vertical” applies to both the indexation and serving of content, which is neatly organized by category. Product searches may take place on Amazon (research shows this to be the most common starting point for product searches), or a consumer may go to a site like Indeed to look for a new job.

These slimmer indices of content have the benefit of a pure focus on one area of activity or business, which can facilitate faster, more accurate results for users.

For marketers with one specific type of product or service to sell, the lure of vertical search can be clear, too. They can meet their audience when their search intent is overt and can focus their energies on a platform that they know will deliver results.

This is not a new phenomenon, however.

Google’s universal search, which indexes and ranks image results alongside video and local listings, is an aggregation of verticals into what appears to be a more conventional, horizontal search engine. Recent moves into the jobs market, along with a revamped flights search engine, show Google’s ambitions to develop specific new technologies to gain market share in profitable verticals.

Google also indexes content hosted on vertical search engines, so it is possible to see social media and video results (from Twitter and YouTube, for example) within Google results. There can be no doubt that Google is observing changes in users’ behavior and wants to maintain their attention before they start their searches elsewhere.

Before marketers assess where to place their emphasis, it is worth assessing just how significantly vertical search is changing the landscape.
How is vertical search changing the search landscape?

If we analyze the recent clickstream data, we can see that vertical search is still taking off, outside of Google.

Google Web Search has merged with Google Images and Google Maps, and the likes of YouTube, Pinterest and Amazon are in the ascendancy while still remaining minor players in the grand scheme.