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Vertical Creep in Search Results - Should Organic Optimizers be Concerned?

March 6th 2006

Vertical Creep in Search Results - Should Organic Optimizers be Concerned?

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I thought for this week I’d give a summary of some of the more interesting Search Engine Strategies sessions which are currently going on in New York City.

I was at SES as a speaker last year in New York and I have to say, there is a wealth of information there even if some of it is contradictory.  Not only that ,but you get to meet some amazing people and can even have one on one access with some of the search engine reps.  Overall, I found it to be a worthwhile experience.

This year, like many people, I wasn’t able to attend. However, I wanted to keep up with the news, so I found a great source of reports and updates.  I will summarize the most important sessions to the best of my ability.

In my opinion, one of the most crucial topics is Vertical Creep.


Vertical creep is when non-organic and non-paid results start occupying top spots in search results.  Verticals started showing up in search results back when Altavista was popular, and since then have grown into a much more sophisticated part of the overall search engine results page.  Greg Jarboe was the first to speak of vertical creep and introduced everyone to verticals.

All the engines have verticals in some form or another nowadays.  Google has its famous “OneBox” which is generally the place immediately below the top sponsored ads but immediately above the organic results.  This is where you will find news, Froogle, and image results which may match a query.

For example, I wrote a few weeks ago about how, when you searched for Olympics on Google, you were presented with video results at the top of the page.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Do a search for New Orleans, for example, and in Google you are presented with not only news results but also map results, pushing the organic results down so that only the top 2 or 3 results are showing.  Much less than the typical 4 or 5 we are used to seeing.

One of the biggest impacts of Verticals is the “stretching” of the search results page.  It is becoming ever clearer that everything but the top 1 or 2 organic is worth less because it could be pushed below the fold, whereas sponsored’s value is increasing because there are less organic results visible.

According to Gord Hotchkiss, however, the impact on verticals, at least on Yahoo! And MSN, isn’t as great.  His firm has recently completed research on how users interact with search engines.  The Yahoo! MSN research performed by Hotchkiss’ firm is a follow up to Google research the firm completed last year at this time.


According to Hotchkiss, Google does a better job of incorporating Verticals into results.  Google users are more accepting of them while Yahoo! and MSN users tend to scan more of the results on a page, thereby negating the impact verticals have on organic results.

This could mean a couple of things.  First, as Hotchkiss suggests, Google may have “trained” its users.  We are used to seeing the verticals (and hit bolding and inconsistently displayed sponsored results) and are therefore more accepting to the varying page changes, while Yahoo! and MSN users are less forgiving, perhaps because they feel the results displayed are less relevant.  This isn’t too hard to believe considering he gave an example of searching for New York Pizza on MSN and NOT getting pizza places but getting news about pizza in New York.

Personally, I too have experienced this, especially with MSN.  It seems to have more of a problem determining what types of verticals are relevant to the searcher.

Bob Carilli was up next and presented a case study on how effective verticals have been for one of his clients.


Through some analysis they found that Froogle shopping results were showing up a lot for his clients’ competitive keyword terms, yet the Froogle listings were unoptimized.

They responded by creating a data feed for Froogle which was optimized to target these great phrases which had poor Froogle listings.  As a result, his client’s site quickly moved to the top of the Froogle listings for those phrases.  While it is unclear, I would assume this would have translated into similar top rankings in the Google area where Froogle is displayed.

This also shows that, as search marketers, we shouldn’t rely solely on SEO or PPC.  There are dozens of verticals out there we could tap into if we had an open mind.

If you look at Google alone, there are opportunities in Google News (with properly optimized press releases), Froogle, as mentioned above, Google Local, Google Base, Google Video and more.  Similarly, with Yahoo! and MSN there are verticals to research.  Both engines also have a shopping portal, as well as news, video and local results. 

In the end, verticals could become the “poor man’s” SEO tactic.  If you can’t compete organically and can’t pay for top sponsored, perhaps you can optimize your product feed to appear ahead of all your competitors?

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By Rob Sullivan
Rob Sullivan is a SEO Consultant and Writer for http://www.textlinkbrokers.com. Textlinkbrokers is the trusted leader in building long term rankings through safe and effective link building.



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