Search engine optimization is now an essential part of marketing. It might not be as fun as producing creative ad ideas. It might not be as exciting as running competitions or coming up with new promotions. But when the result can be a steady flow of free leads and a website with a high ranking, all of that content creation and link-building pays in spades. So search engine experts spend hours flirting for just a touch of Google love, even as they’re having their head turned by Bing while still wondering whether Yahoo! has anything to offer.
Focusing on those big search engines makes sense. According to HitWise, Google, Yahoo!, Bing and Ask together took 98.84 percent of all Web searches in 2009. While the proportion of searches shared between them might change a little, especially as Bing continues to eat up Yahoo’s users, the big engines’ hold over the search market has changed little. In 2006, Google, Yahoo!, MSN/Live and Ask accounted for 98.34 percent of searches, still leaving little more than one percent for other players. But those figures might be a touch misleading. They don’t, for example, take into account the number of searches made through Google’s Custom Search Engines, user-made directories that focus on a small subset of sites and reached not through Google’s home page but through search boxes on specialist Web pages. While these are likely to make up only a tiny proportion of Google’s total searches, they can provide some highly targeted marketing.
Fewer Listings Mean Higher Rankings
Anyone searching for a notary service, for example, is likely to turn to Google to find a local office, but it’s also possible that they’ll surf first to a site about notaries to find out what they do and what they can offer. Once there, they could find themselves looking for a notary on a search engine created by NotaryBids.com. Any notary business can ask to be listed and any site can place NotaryBids’ search box on its pages.
The advantage for NotaryBids is clear: they get a cut of revenue from the ads on the search results page. But the benefits for notary firms are also clear: they get to put their name in front of a small but highly targeted audience. Even more importantly, while NotaryBids’ search engine is powered by Google and uses Google’s algorithm to rank results, the smaller number of businesses listed makes it easier for sites to rise up the rankings. There’s a better chance of appearing in the top ten search results when there are only eleven sites with your main keyword in the search engine.
There’s no shortage of similar types of Google-based search engines serving a range of other niches. PogoFrog, for example, is aimed specifically at the medical profession, while Insurance-search-engine.com gives insurance businesses a chance to reach their markets.
Entry to search engines like these though is restricted. The search engine’s creator gets to choose which sites will appear in the results. Because many are created not as search engines alone but as search facilities on niched sites, that can mean that competitors will find themselves excluded, and entry will be restricted to partners. There are plenty of other search engines though that are equally niched and which are completely open to any relevant site.
BusinessFinance.com, for example, uses a Google search box to search within the site and across the Web, but it has its own matching software to allow company owners to browse the site for capital and financing. Octopart was created by two physics graduate students who were fed up looking for electronics parts in different catalogs. Their search engine allows engineers to find bits for circuit boards and invites distributors and manufacturers to sign up. And WeddingSearches.com is just one search engine among many trying to help couples navigate their nuptials.
$150 For a Directory Listing
Most sites like these don’t charge for submissions. The more comprehensive their listings, the more likely they are to attract searchers — and the more money they’ll be able to make out of advertising – so they’re happy to accept any relevant site that wants to join. When a niched search engine or directory gets very big though, demand for space and the necessity for a company to be listed can be high enough for the site to charge a fee. That’s what happened to EngineersEdge, a portal for design, engineering and manufacturing professionals with more than 500,000 slightly nerdy visitors each month. To stand a chance of reaching that audience, businesses have to pay $150 for inclusion.
But is it really worthwhile? If almost all search traffic is going through the Big Four – and most of that through Google – is it worth spending time trying to get a site listed on a niched search engine?
Much depends on the size of your niche and, more importantly, the number of searches your niche’s search engine receives. As long as submissions are free and acceptance no more than a matter of completing a form then there’s nothing to lose and free traffic to gain. Even if a niched search engine only attracts a fraction of one percent of total search engine traffic, those visitors will be targeted, self-selected and keen on your services. If they know about the search engine, they’re going to be knowledgeable and dedicated — and ready to be converted into buyers. A niched search engine then might not deliver giant streams of traffic, but the users it will deliver will be valuable.
Whether it’s worth paying for a listing will depend on the strength of the portal. Even EngineerEdge’s 500,000 visitors will have to compete with $150-worth of clicks from AdWords — and they sit on the side of search results.
There is one more opportunity that a niched search engine can offer a growing business: the possibility of creating one yourself. Google’s Custom Search Engine makes creating a search engine for your field a breeze. You’ll make money from the advertising — and direct traffic to your own site too.