Vertical Engine Lures IT Marketers

A new vertical search engine targeting enterprise technology buyers has quietly launched at IT.com.

The beta search destination, now in its second week of operation, is supported by two models: CPM-based sponsorship and pay-per-click listings. Its founders, including the former CTO of OgilvyInteractive, aim to make it a resource for people in need of guidance on tech purchase decisions.

The company has secured several major tech advertisers as launch sponsors, including Qwest, Nortel, SBC, Intel and Microsoft.

“We have a very good sampling of the most serious IT vendors in the world who have trusted us with their name and have spent effort and money to participate in the site,” said John Balestrieri, COO of IT.com. Balestrieri was CTO at OgilvyInteractive before starting work on the new site.

Sales of IT.com’s PPC links are managed through a bidding platform similar to what the major engines use, and they appear alongside organic results in the same manner.

Category sponsorships, meanwhile, will initially be sold at a $10 to $15 CPM. The launch sponsors are in a special charter program, for which billing terms were not disclosed.

For the sponsorships, IT.com offers additional detailed reporting and unmediated editing of creative. “We capture every query, we capture every post-query action. We create, on the fly, a real-time marketing survey, which is presented to the sponsor,” said Balestrieri.

On the bid-for-placement front, executives claim the engine is quicker to demote poor-performing links than its horizontal search counterparts. Bidding on brand names owned by rivals is forbidden.

“We demote more quickly and more severely. What we really don’t want to happen is for advertisers to try to do on our site what they do habitually in some e-commerce situations on Google or other sites,” said Balestrieri. “What we’ve learned from our end users is they care a lot about relevancy. Our users don’t want bait and switch.”

Results pages only include links to tech vendor pages, which IT.com crawls using its own proprietary technology. The organic part of the search equation has been in development for a year and a half.

IT.com’s distribution strategy is a combination of standalone search and syndication deals, through which its search box would appear on tech-oriented content sites. Executives said they are in talks now with several potential partners.

Vertical search has been flagged as a key growth driver for the search marketing business. Most of the attention has been focused on consumer categories like retail and travel, but many SEM experts are watching the B2B implications as well.

“If you take a look at spending on B2B versus B2C, there appears to be a huge upside to business-to-business. They are attacking a portion of the market that has a lot of [potential],” said Joshua Stylman, co-founders and managing partners of SEM firm Reprise Media, when shown the engine.

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