While attention is fixed on the rivalry between Google and Microsoft-Yahoo, entrepreneurs are not sitting idly by.
Sure, Google's the undisputed leader in the United States, accounting for 70.6 percent of query volume, according to Hitwise. And Yahoo's plan to use Microsoft Bing search technology has set the stage to help Microsoft become a stronger competitor.
What's more, vertical search engines have become an established part of the search landscape. Think Amazon.com for shopping, Ticketmaster for events, Kayak.com for travel, and Trulia.com for real estate.
Keep in mind, no one thinks Google will become the 21st century equivalent of the American Motors anytime soon. The recent shuttering of visual search engine SearchMe, which had $44 million in funding, reinforces the challenge of building a search engine and winning over a following. And who could forget the splash made by Cuil last year? It had only 112,900 unique visitors in June 2009 compared to 2 million in July 2008, according to Compete.com.
Still, a mind-boggling number of ventures are seeking to carve out a niche on other fronts to help people online get more relevant information faster. These entrepreneurs -- some digging into verticals such as travel, shopping, and jobs, and others investing in new approaches and formats -- are all hoping the dollars will follow.
So how are other search engines evolving and differentiating themselves from Google and Microsoft's Bing? And what do those developments mean for online advertisers and marketers?
I posed these and other questions to Charles Knight, an analyst and editor of AltSearchEngines. Knight's a font of information on alternate and niche search engines, passionately discussing the nuances of each.
He first referred me to a piece he prepared for BingTweets, a partnership between Federated Media and Microsoft Bing. Here, Knight lists the top 10 search categories including vertical search (e.g., Hotelicopter.com, TheFind), federated search that involves searching deep into Web sites to find select databases (e.g., Mednar.com, Biznar.com), and social search (e.g., OneRiot and iMedix).
Out of all those categories, which two or three hold the most potential for advertisers and marketers? Knight reached out to his network of search engine entrepreneurs to reply to that question. Here are excerpts from their responses, keeping in mind they reflect their preferences and biases:
But what about Twitter's search engine? Knight is not sold on it. "I don't get Twitter [search]. I'm in the camp with people who find it's [full of] meaningless banalities, worthless chitchat," he said.
And while vertical search engines have become entrenched players, the next generation are incorporating new interactive tools and other features. For instance, Savings.com, a coupon site, this month unveiled features designed to build an online community for deal hunters. Simply Hired, a site that aggregates job listings, has added tools to assist the job hunter, such as integrating LinkedIn into the career site's search results pages.
While Knight is intrigued by the innovations occurring in search, he cautions that some engines are so specialized they'll have a tough time getting discovered. "No one is going to use six different search engines for six different needs," Knight says. That is, unless, you are Charles Knight.
Meet Anna Maria at Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center.
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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