Vertical PPC Search Engines and User Intent

Here at PPC Hero, we generally talk about the Googles, Yahoos and MSNs of the world. With good reason too, that’s where the bulk of traffic is and where you should spend most of your time. However, sometimes it makes sense to break out and try 2nd/3rd tier search engines – or better yet – vertical search engines. It all comes down to search intent.

Over the past few years I’ve been working with a client who is a niche job board. At first, my approach was to drive traffic (and conversions) with Google, Yahoo! and MSN. This particular website had 2 conversion types: a resume submission and a direct application to a job. However, I could never find the right balance of conversions (applies are worth more). Eventually, a few of the vertical search engines began to court me. Sites like,, began to reach out to me looking for another sale.

At first I resisted their temptations. But eventually I caved and began my vertical PPC journey timidly with small dollar tests. I realized very quickly that I could drive more traffic for less money – and the icing on the cake? This traffic converted into applies! In a matter of months, all of my PPC budget was transferred to these vertical search engines, drastically changing my client’s flow of traffic and job seeker applies.

Based on these results I had to ask myself some tough questions. Why did the vertical search engines perform better when Google obviously has more search traffic, impressions, etc.? What about these PPC campaigns made them convert at a higher rate?

Here are my observations and explanations:

  • In general, there is less advertiser competition on the vertical engines, allowing for cheaper cost-per-clicks – thus more traffic for the same amount of money.
  • At their core, these PPC models are very different. Google, Yahoo, MSN are all keyword based, and the traffic is directed to the landing page of your choice. The job board search engines are based on a live feed of your site’s jobs – whose titles and descriptions act as the keywords, and the traffic is sent to the job listing on your website.
  • User intent. Individuals searching Google vs. are in a different state of mind. Job seekers on Google are passive, which is why in my circumstance they converted to a resume on my site (sit and wait for an employer to call). On the flip-side, job seekers at Indeed or SimplyHired want to find a job today. They are active job seekers, and when they find a job they like, they apply right then and there. Period.
  • User intent part 2. When you think about it, the major search engines (sometimes referred to as “horizontal search“) offers quite a bit of noise – or tangential search results that aren’t necessarily what a job seeker is looking for. Whereas a search on Indeed provides you with one thing only: a list of available jobs relevant to your search. Which is what vertical search is all about, right?

I’ve used a job board vertical search engine example here. But the parallels are much the same when looking at shopping search engines or any other vertical you can think of. The moral of my story is that switching to vertical PPC search engines paid off for my campaign’s performance. It also goes to show why Google, Yahoo and MSN are so interested in fulfilling the needs of the “vertically inclined.” Take a look at Google Base, Yahoo! Shopping or MSN Shopping. In short, vertical search works!

What kind of success have you had with using vertical search engines for your PPC campaigns?