First, Second, and Third Pages of Search

I turns out that I’ve been citing Charlene Li’s blog post about the Third Page of Search in a number of conversations recently. She summarizes the concept:

“The first page of search is the query page (like, the second page is the search results, and the third is a destination page on yet another search engine or aggregator that’s been optimized for that query.”

And continues,

“[A]s vertical search engines develop, they will actively try to source much of their traffic from the general search engines, training consumers to actually seek out these brand names in the general interface and then drilling down into parametric, structured search on the vertical search site that’s better suited for their original intention…. I think we’re seeing a subtle but fundamental shift in consumer search usage away from trying to find perfect destination page and instead, turning instead to aggregators and vertical search engines that understand (and can optimize for) the query better than the destination pages.”

Her post has got me thinking in the past month about where the traffic of vertical search sites is and will be coming from. However, the examples that she cites, pages from AllRecipes and CitySearch, are distinctly those of content sites – not of vertical search engines per se. I agree that aggregators of specific niche content (especially that which is user-generated, like the above two examples) will increasingly look for their permalinked pages to become the “third page.”

But I wonder if true vertical search engines, which don’t own their own content but rather point to other sites for the consuming of content, are experiencing or even view the third page strategy as a key component of generating traffic. Kayak (travel), Indeed (jobs), BusyTonight (local), Blinkx (video) don’t appear now to have spent sufficient resources devoted to generating SEO-friendly content landing pages. I’ve heard whispers, though, that some of these are making move in that direction, and will look for those changes. People vertical search site, ZoomInfo has already made strides in this approach, however (example). And it appears that Healthline (health) is working on it.

My hypothesis is that the line between vertical search engine and content aggretator will blur as more of these companies optimize their offerings to become the third page. With increased primary search engine visibility, perhaps vertical search engines will build their audience not by brand/destination building, but through an SEO focus.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.