One takeaway from Google’s purchase this week of travel search technology provider ITA Software is that the company believes there is a need to add more specific search tools to its offerings. During her remarks following the deal announcement, VP Marissa Mayer said that while Google (NSDQ: GOOG) had a preference for “general tools for search,” there were “times where (to) really provide the best user experience, the most relevant results, we do need to have both a special set of data and/or a vertical interface that allows people to really express what they are looking for.” That follows remarks by CEO Eric Schmidt earlier this year in which he said that among the companies Google wanted to buy were those that “have invented some very interesting way of doing, for example, a kind of vertical search.”
It makes business sense. As Barclay Capital’s Douglas Anmuth wrote in a report this morning, Google’s “core search growth” is slowing, so there may now be a “greater urgency in pursuing specific verticals.” So, what other specialized areas could Google target?
One possibility is that the company could try to counter some of Microsoft’s recent momentum in the search market by making a push into the verticals that Bing is targeting. Those include shopping, travel, health, local, and entertainment. By buying ITA Software, Google will be able to match Bing in travel. The company already has offerings in local (through Google Maps), entertainment (through its music deals), in shopping (through product search), and health (through Google Health).
That doesn’t mean that Google couldn’t make much bigger moves in those areas, however. Google’s entertainment offerings, for instance, are inferior to those of Bing, which recently gave its own a facelift. In its current incarnation, Google Health is focused on storing medical information and not on providing health search results — something which sites like Healthline are doing well. As for local, earlier this year, Google tried unsuccessfully to buy Yelp, which would likely have been integrated with Maps in some way.
A search vertical we know Google is interested in expanding into is real estate search — an area in which general search tools aren’t sufficient, because of the many inputs involved (location, price range, type of home, etc). The company has expanded its real estate listings in Maps and late last year it was said to be in talks to buy real estate search engine Trulia.
Related is the possibility that Google could make a bigger play in mortgage search — another area where a one word query just won’t do. Already, the company is giving people who search for the term “mortgage” some additional options to refine their search, although those are currently formatted as an ad.
When it comes to large consumer purchases which people research online, another big market is autos, where Google has no presence and is instead dominated by sites like AutoTrader and Cars.com. In his report, Anmuth mentions credit cards and insurance searches as possibilities too.