In less than 20 years, the Internet has evolved from an exciting but untested technology to become perhaps the most important development of our lifetimes. The online universe has grown so vast — Google now indexes more than 3 billion Web pages — that the sheer volume of information available is mind-boggling.

With so much floating around in cyberspace, it can be frustrating or impossible to find one specific item of interest. The latest permutation of the Internet hopes to cure this needle-in-a-haystack phenomenon. Vertical search engines whittle down the endless information into narrow, topic-specific indices.

“When you search Google, you get maybe a million pages — no one has enough time to wade through all that,” says Kevin Coleman, president of Technolytics, an executive thinktank in Pittsburgh, and former chief strategist for Netscape. “Businesses want content that’s relevant to their needs. Now you can go to one place to find all the information you need about a specific topic and in the context of your industry.”

Traditional search engines offer loads of information on every topic imaginable, but they don’t delve deeply into any specific area. A vertical search engine, on the other hand, indexes information only on a specific topic. There are vertical search engines for such targeted groups as job seekers, travelers and house hunters. There are also a growing number of B2B sites, such as GlobalSpec for the engineering industry and ThomasNet for the industrial market.

Now the cleaning industry has its own B2B vertical search engine. Trade Press Publishing, Milwaukee, (the parent company of Sanitary Maintenance), launched this past spring.

“There have been stories that our industry is three to five years behind when it comes to technology,” says Rob Geissler, group publisher at Trade Press. “That gap is closing all the time and this is a great way to let other industries know we are right there in providing electronic information.”

Search Solution
Unlike all-purpose search engines, vertical search engines are aimed at a very narrow audience interested in a particular area. Rather than indexing the content of billions of Web sites, these focused engines cull from just hundreds or thousands of highly targeted sites.

“A vertical search engine has a fixed amount of content, providing more detail and often a better interface for people who are looking for products, services, companies, or people in a particular industry,” says David Meerman Scott, author of “Cashing in With Content.”

When a user types in a word or phrase, the engine mines its constrained set of data to return specialized results. Businesses appreciate the technology because they get fewer, more relevant results.

Using an industry-specific lexicon avoids a common problem with general search engines. For example, the top 10 results for “touch-free” on Yahoo includes a car wash, dog training, and a celebrity magazine. The same search on turns up only sites related to touch-free dispensing systems.

“Vertical search engines work well in a B2B application in that they eliminate a lot of consumer-oriented results,” says Jesus Carrillo, director of information technology for Trade Press. “It gives you a leg up. You don’t start off with 865 million results. You start with a universe of information that is relevant.”

This scaled-back approach is helpful to any busy professional, but is particularly beneficial to people who are intimidated by the Internet.

“A vertical search really is helpful to the non-tech savvy because they can just type in ‘tile floors’ and see what they get whereas it might be all across the board on a mainstream search engine,” Geissler says.

Inside Information is programmed to search among about 900 cleaning-related Web sites, including manufacturers, associations, government agencies, and industry media. There are two primary ways for a user to search the information.

The first is a basic or advanced “industry search,” which returns primarily product-driven Web sites related to the key word or phrase. For example, a search for “mop” returns links to dozens of mop manufacturers.

The second function is a basic or advanced “article search,” which delivers content-driven links. Enter “mop” in the article search and serves up stories on the topic from several magazines and government sites.

“This industry is very product-driven and our readers are always looking for information on specific products,” Carrillo says. “But sometimes they want more than just the manufacturer’s take on a product. They want third-party testing or recommendations, or some other source to validate what a manufacturer says about a product.”

Distributors can currently use to quickly find a specific manufacturer or a list of companies that produce a particular kind of product. “Distributors can use it as a virtual Rolodex for all their manufacturers’ Web sites,” Geissler says. It can be used to research a product, procedure, or trend, and a distributor can refer his customers to the site as an educational tool.

“With the fast pace of everyone’s business lives these days, anytime you can streamline something as a business tool I think it’s beneficial,” Geissler says.

Expect to become even more beneficial in the years to come. Trade Press has the ability to make frequent changes to the search engine and to create a close-knit community of participants because it has the search-engine technology in house.

Still in its infancy, the site currently does not index distributors and building service contractors, but it soon will. The next planned expansion of the search engine will allow users to find a distributor or BSC in their area. To make sure your company’s Web site is eventually included in, visit the site and click on the “Getting listed” button and fill out the short form.

Once the new sites are added to, Carrillo can help distributors ensure that their Web pages are listed correctly and ranked appropriately in search results. Interested parties can contact Trade Press to learn more about how searches based on meta tags, key words, and descriptions and then tweak their homepages accordingly.

“We didn’t want it to be a one-search solution and that’s all it does or will ever do,” Carrillo says. “We want it to be more flexible and responsive to the market.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.

Boost Your Online Ratings With Search Engine Optimization
Web sites have become as common as business cards and nearly every company, big or small, has one. With so many companies represented on the Internet, it’s easy for a distributor to get lost in the crowd.

Seeing your competitors earn higher priority in a search engine can be infuriating, but there are ways to improve your standing (without paying for it). We’ve asked technology experts to share a few ideas about search engine optimization (SEO), which can help you ensure that prospects find your site.

The first thing they all agree on is that there are a lot of old-school sneaky tactics that don’t work well. It used to work to simply load up a Web site with hidden keywords. Search engines have become more sophisticated, however, and now such tricks rarely work and, in some cases, can actually backfire.

“Now you have to work a little harder,” says Kevin Coleman, president of Technolytics, Pittsburgh.

The methods search engines use to determine rankings vary, but most use some combination of keywords and links.

The location and frequency of keywords weigh heavily. A page with the search term appearing in the title tag are often considered more important, as are pages that have the search words repeated frequently or located near the top of the page.

How many times others link to your site is also important. When an outside Web site links to your page, the search engine considers that a vote of confidence about the worthiness of your site.

“The more people that link into your content, the bigger footprint you have and that becomes more attractive to the search engines,” Coleman says.

Although keywords and links are important, simply manipulating your page to add superficial references won’t necessarily help your rankings. Many search engines actually penalize pages for this type of “spamming.” For example, repeating a word hundreds of times on a page, especially using white text on a white background, can get your site blacklisted.

“Search engines are constantly refining their own underlying technology to catch those sneaky tricks that used to work really well five or six years ago,” says Jesus Carrillo, director of information technology for Trade Press Publishing, Milwaukee. “We put a cap on the number of times a word on a page has value and beyond that it starts detracting from the value. If you have to stack your page with a word 50 times, chances are it’s not going to be a quality page.”

Quality over quantity really is the key to SEO. Distributors should first study which search words are important to their business — what are the terms customers are using to find the products and services you sell?

Next, they should grow their Web site to include content related to those words. Finally, actively seek out relevant partners who can link to your site.

“Once you understand what the important phrases are, it’s a good idea to create a separate page on your Web site with an essay about each of those words,” says David Meerman Scott, author of “Cashing in With Content.”

For example, provide case studies about how you solved a client’s needs, a cost benefit analysis about a particular product, or a trend report about what’s new in a particular product category.

Whatever data you include needs to be of real value to the consumer and attractive enough that others (manufacturers, government agencies, your peers, etc.) will want to link to it.

“Yes, it’s a little work to do this, but it comes down to having good content,” Scott says.


Database Supports Green Formulating
The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell recently launched an online database called CleanerSolutions, a free tool that can be accessed at It helps manufacturers find effective and safer alternatives for ingredients in cleaning chemicals.

The database is culled from over 10 years of performance testing results combined with health and environment indicators. Users enter a cleaning challenge (i.e. oil, dirt or inks). Optional fields ask for the surface type and the equipment used to clean it. Results provide possible low-toxic or non-toxic replacement ingredients that are used in cleaning chemicals.

Tennant and Nobles Rebrand
Tennant Co., Minneapolis, recently relaunched its Nobles brand of cleaning equipment, differentiating its rugged, durable line from the more technologically advanced Tennant line. With the re-brand, two new Web sites — and — will support customers of each product group.

Nobles’ Web site highlights (in English, French and Spanish) product information and tips on cleaning needs. Tennant’s site offers needs-based product information and specific cleaning solutions.

Zero In On The Top Industry Trends
Looking to catch up with the industry’s news and get updates on trends? Visit for the latest news and features on topics that are most relevant to today’s jan/san professionals.