We all search the Internet many times a day. But how do we search it?

Most general Internet searches are universal or “horizontal” searches. In this type of searching, the search engine returns results from anywhere on the web that appear relevant to the search query. A horizontal search will therefore usually produce a large number of results. Large search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing all do horizontal searching by default.

However, there is an alternative to horizontal searching: vertical searching. Google has offered vertical search options on its site for quite a while: think of the menu below the search bar for Maps, News, Videos and Images, with more options such as Shopping, Books, Finance and Flights.

Vertical searching enables the searcher to instruct Google only to look through a specific part of the Internet, for example a certain type of media or genre of content. The results for vertical searches are therefore smaller and more focused than horizontal searching. So if a user searches using one of Google’s different search engines – or within a media specific site such as Youtube – they are more likely to find what they are looking for.

So vertical searching offers a golden opportunity to get your website in front of more people more quickly. But how can you ensure that your website is optimised to score highly in vertical searches? Whether you are a marketer for a small or large business, or working for an SEO agency, here are five universally applicable tips you can take on board.

  1. Keep things relevant
    Horizontal search results are heavily influenced by content that is high quality and regularly updated, and incorporates SEO keywords and phrases. Vertical searching also depends on SEO, so marketers should invest time in exploring the opportunities presented by vertical search databases. When doing this, it is essential to have data so that personalised results can be taken into account when formulating SEO strategies. This may sound a little daunting to begin with, but marketers who use data effectively can gain tremendous advantage by doing this. It enables them to apply the same level of detail and relevance that Google is using. They will then be empowered to create relevant content that skillfully incorporates the keywords that people are searching for on the devices they are searching for them. This will engage targeted users and move them up the rankings in Google search.
  2. Understand the customer’s intent
    There is much scope for creativity and intuition when planning SEO for vertical searching: part of this is trying to get into the psychological mindset of the typical searcher to second guess what they are likely to enter in their vertical search query. As we all know, Google’s algorithms are learning constantly, and these now take into consideration the kind of searches that are related to different vertical sectors. It is also using AI techniques such as RankBrain to improve search results. As marketers we also need to get on board with this trend, continually learning more about how users behave and what type of content works best in different contexts. We need to gain an understanding of the intention behind typical words that searchers use, so that we can feature highly in results that are relevant to what they are looking for – even if they don’t quite know that themselves.
  3. One size does not fit all
    In website optimisation there are few constants. Different organisations need to respond differently to the specific needs of their potential users. Google will attempt to match its results to user intent so we need to be aware of nuances in this. Take security as an example. In August 2014 Google began including HTTPS as a ranking signal, but it does this more in some industries than others. If people are looking for financial information – and may be asked to enter their personal details – then HTTPS will be seen as important. So many of the top results in financial searches will use HTTPS. However for other sectors – such as travel – it is less important, and in fact if a travel site used HTTPS this could even limit its flexibility regarding display advertising. So when optimising your website to score highly in vertical search results you need to consider a range of factors and make your priority responding to the needs of your target audience.
  4. Get your content length right
    However, there is still no universally right answer as to how long content should be. Fundamentally the optimal length depends on the intention behind the search query. Again the answer is to arm yourself with data. Firstly find out what kind of word count is current in your industry; for example what kind of length are your main competitor pages using. But be aware that optimum length will vary. For example, if someone wants detailed information about a potential travel destination they will be willing to read for longer and for the content to include personal insights and opinions. But if someone wants a clear overview of a financial product then the content needs to be much shorter. Some pages top the rankings with less than 500 words: it depends on the subject and the context.

    Advice from SEO agencies continually changes on this. In 2014 Google’s John Mueller stated that “There’s no minimum length, and there’s no minimum number of articles a day that you have to post, nor even a minimum number of pages on a website. In most cases, quality is better than quantity. Our algorithms explicitly try to find and recommend websites that provide content that’s of high quality, unique, and compelling to users. Don’t fill your site with low-quality content, instead work on making sure that your site is the absolute best of its kind.”

    So the best advice for producing content for vertical searching seems to be to forget about what length you think Google may or may not want, and to focus on identifying and meeting the user intent.

  5. Use images – but not too many
    To some extent, vertical search results can also be improved by having additional media such as graphics, images and videos on your website. Web content isn’t just about text and these other media can be an effective way of communicating information and increasing user engagement. But again, be aware of the context and don’t overdo it. In many cases, well-organised text can be more effective in breaking down complex subjects such as scientific, technical or financial information, and too many images can detract from this. Conversely, if you are producing content for areas such as retail, fashion, home design, food or travel, then visual content plays a more significant role. So there are no fixed rules – it is again dependent on the user’s search intent.
  6. Welcome to the world of vertical search! If you continually take on board the above five tips then you should see a steady increase in your vertical search rankings and be able to welcome a broader range of customers during 2018.