The big search engines like Google and Yahoo dominate the business of navigating the Internet. Millions of people start every Web session by typing a search term into these sites.
But coming up with search results tailored to your needs isn’t so easy. Because these major search engines index a huge swath of the Web, and are designed to find almost anything, they are necessarily general in nature. In most cases, you’ll get lots of irrelevant results.
So more and more companies see a market for what is called vertical search. These are search engines designed to help pluck only specific types of information from the Internet. They index only those sites likely to have that specific kind of information, and they use search queries tailored to their specialties.
I’ve been testing two of the newest vertical search sites, both designed around people and work. Both have drawbacks, but they also have potential.
The first, called Ziggs, helps you find people with particular skills or other characteristics for hiring or networking purposes. For instance, it might help you find a lawyer in Washington specializing in international trade, or an alumnus of Brandeis University who lives in Delaware.
The second, called Indeed.com, is a search engine for jobs. Unlike traditional job sites, like Monster.com, Indeed indexes more than 500 Web sites (including Monster) that list job openings, and allows job seekers to search them all from one place. For instance, you can look for all jobs in Michigan, or all jobs at General Motors, or only job openings in Michigan for engineers at GM.
Ziggs, based in Boston, is technically in beta, or prerelease, status. But it is open for business to all Web users. It claims to be indexing about 2.3 million Web sites, and to include people who work at nearly 43,000 companies. When you locate a person with Ziggs, you mainly get whatever biography page has been posted about that person on his or her company’s Web site.
If you aren’t listed somewhere on the Web, Ziggs allows you to create a detailed profile that will pop up whenever anyone searches for your name, or for other characteristics that match your profile. You can even include a photo, a favorite quotation and a canned “interview” based on questions Ziggs supplies.
Ziggs is free for searchers. There will be a $25 annual fee to be listed in Ziggs, though it’s free for the first year. For $50 a year, Ziggs will also buy an ad on the big search sites like Google designed to make your name pop up in the paid listings that run alongside search results.
Ziggs worked all right in my tests, but it has some flaws. It’s pretty slow, which is probably due to its beta status. And it seems to be aimed more at helping people and companies promote themselves than at providing comprehensive information. Ziggs search results provide only neutral or flattering biographies, not information that might warn you away from a person.
And there are odd holes in its database. Ziggs had nothing for the executives of some companies I tried, even though their profiles are listed in open Web sites. Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, was listed properly as being in Redmond, Wash., the company’s headquarters. But he also popped up as being located in Cincinnati.
Indeed.com, based in Stamford, Conn., is also in beta, but it was polished and speedy. It lists job openings by city, title, company name and key word. It retrieves these openings from job sites, newspaper-ad sites, and corporate and association sites.
Unlike standard job sites, Indeed doesn’t post résumés, and it doesn’t charge searchers anything. Indeed also doesn’t accept money to include job postings in its listings. It is simply a one-stop shop for job seekers. It plans to make money by selling ads.
Indeed claims to have 100,000 new jobs every day. In my tests, I was easily able to locate job openings for both white-collar and blue-collar workers all over the country. For instance, I found jobs for a drywall foreman in New Bedford, Mass.; a radiologist in Ottumwa, Iowa; and a videographer in Sacramento, Calif.
The service includes some nice extra features, all free. You can set up an e-mail alert service to notify you once a day of new jobs that meet your criteria. You can e-mail pages of job-search results to friends. And you can even post a constantly updating feed of search results to a Web page like My Yahoo.
But, as with Ziggs, there are some flaws in Indeed.com. Many of my test searches included duplicate entries for the same job, inflating the number of job results Indeed claimed to produce. Also, when I clicked on many of Indeed’s results to read the actual postings, I found they had expired or had been withdrawn. And, in some cases, Indeed’s results included listings from people seeking jobs, not offering them.
Also, Indeed’s search results were often too vague. A search for “screenwriter” in California turned up postings for office assistants, movie producers and even someone to remove a computer virus — but none for actual screenwriters.
Still, both Ziggs and Indeed provide interesting, focused information that would be hard to find as quickly or precisely on Google or Yahoo. Vertical search sites like these show real promise, if they can get the kinks out.
Write to Walter S. Mossberg at email@example.com