Specialized search engines have the edge when it comes to directly attracting users of particular interests or demographics, but they are not "Google killers", according to market observers and players. They also agree that both types of search engines can complement one another as Internet search becomes increasingly social.
Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of search engine news blog Search Engine Land, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that though more specialized search engines are popping up online, they "haven't registered much as compared to the major ones".
There are specialized search engines that have been successful, but "none of them are Google killers", he noted.
Also called vertical search engines because "they take a vertical slice about [topics like] travel or golf", these differ from general search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. The latter indexes material "across the entire 'horizontal' spectrum" of interests, Sullivan pointed out.
A customized search experience
General search engines also offer advanced search abilities to achieve more precise results. A Google spokesperson told ZDNet Asia that Google's advanced search feature can narrow down or filter out search results according to [a user's] personal preference, such as search tools to "pinpoint the information they are looking for".
In an email, she added that Google's focus is on "providing the most relevant results" quickly and easily, while recognizing that "the right result often takes many different forms", not just Web pages.
Search engine blogger Sullivan said that for a vertical search engine to be successful, it must "only index content from a particular subject" such that it makes for "a better search experience [when] searching through a smaller collection of documents".
In other words, vertical search engines bank on providing the user nothing but the most specific and in-depth results once a query is entered. This is something that traditional search engines' ranking algorithms may not be able to do to the same effect.
One example of a vertical search engine, Momondo, touts itself as a travel search engine. It helps users save time and money by aggregating airfares from several travel sites so they can compare prices and packages that fit their itinerary.
For instance, Christian search engine SeekFind saw 30,570 visitors who performed 60,510 searches in September this year, according to S. Michael Houdmann who is the president and founder of Got Questions Ministries, the parent organization for SeekFind.
Reza Sardeha, founder and CEO of Muslim search engine I'mHalal, said the site gets an average of 350,000 search queries daily compared with 10,000 six months ago.
Religious search engines have a common goal of providing only results that are in line with their own teachings.
In an e-mail, SeekFind's Houdmann told ZDNet Asia that "Google and Yahoo are great if you want information from every source on the entire planet. The problem is that the good content gets mixed in with all the bad content".
According to Sardeha via email, I'mHalal "returns only Islamic-oriented results for certain terms like 'sex'. Besides that, it functions like any other search engine".
Complementing each other
General search engines and vertical ones do not necessarily clash with each other, Sullivan said.
"Overall, they complement each other. If someone searches using Google and finds a good vertical, that's a success for both Google and the vertical," he elaborated.
In any case, "people have a huge amount of searches they do, [which] brings them back to Google anyway", he noted.
Looking forward, Sullivan said the search engine landscape will see more vertical search engines, with real-time search one of the trends as well.
He added there will also be greater use of "social and personal data" as search "taps more into the social signals" that Web 2.0 provides.
I'mHalal's Sardeha also agreed that Internet searches in the future will "tap your social graph to better understand the context of a search.
Using Twitter as an example, he explained that "when someone tweets 'I'll be in Paris next week' and then searches for a generic query like 'hotels' on I'mHalal, we will return results and ads from hotels in Paris".