Friday, August 22, 2008

Search Insider: The Pros and Cons of Demographic Search Engines The Pros and Cons of Demographic Search Engines

THERE HAS BEEN MUCH HYPE over the last few years about vertical search engines and how they will change search marketing; however, in addition to the fact that most have failed to attract sizeable user bases, most vertical search engines do not have paid inventory available or are filling the space with Google or Yahoo ads. In light of this, there is an intriguing new trend emerging in niche search engines. A few months ago, announced it was focusing on the female searcher, attempting to position itself as a demographic search engine. After all, as search marketers, we love to leverage every level of granularity we can get our hands on, right?

Now, there is another IAC property creating buzz. RushmoreDrive, or "The Black Google" as it's been dubbed, caters to an African-American user base, and the way I first learned of it leads me to believe that it may have some traction.

In early July, one of our search team members brought it to my attention after hearing it advertised on the radio -- a classic example of online response to offline advertising. Then, a few mornings ago, I was watching the San Francisco morning news in my hotel room and heard a short segment on RushmoreDrive.

I must say that this quickly caught my attention and I started thinking about the pros and cons of demographic search engines. When Google announced demographic targeting capabilities in AdWords, it opened the floodgates for clients asking about how they could leverage it in their businesses. So we know interest in demographic targeting is high. Unfortunately, it doesn't apply to search; it is only available for some sites within the content network. So as I write this on my long journey back to Florida, I started thinking about the practicality of these types of search engines and how they could fit into the future of this industry.

One argument is that technology should be blind to race, religion and gender. With that in mind, how much are the results on going to differ from the results on Google? Can the ranking algorithms actually factor in a variable based on the users' race? Doesn't that question, in and of itself, make sites like RushmoreDrive slightly taboo? There are dangers of defining a site's users and their perceived preferences by race; however, I also see how it could create a sense of community, connection and inclusion among its users. In fact, I think when done correctly, the creation of a search engine that makes an emotional connection with its users may just stand a chance in this world. I do roughly 90% of my own queries on Google, but I have no emotional attachment to it - It is habitual.

Out of mere curiosity, I Googled "African American search engine" to see if there were others in existence, and quickly learned that there are several. Then I started thinking about the ideal search engine for me. What would I have an emotional connection to? I haven't quite figured that out yet, but I think mine would be something like:

I'd like to hear what your ideal search engine would be. And would this perfect search engine have the power to tear you away from Google?

Janel Landis is senior director of search development and strategy at SendTec, Inc., a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based multichannel, integrated marketing firm specializing in search engine marketing, direct response television and lead generation.

Search Insider for Friday, August 22, 2008:

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