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Growing Your Business with Vertical SEO: How to Use the IBSO Process to Rank in Amazon, YouTube, Pinterest, & More

Newsflash, guys:

Search optimization is bigger than ever…

…and it’s NOT just about ranking on Google.

No, I’m not talking about Bing optimization or Yahoo! optimization or DuckDuckGo optimization.

In fact, I’m not talking about optimizing for general search engines at all. Search optimization is bigger than ever, and it's not just about ranking on Google. ~Russ Henneberry

I’m talking about a different kind of search optimization. A kind of optimization that, depending on your business, might be far more important than improving your organic rankings in Google.

I’m talking about vertical SEO (search engine optimization).

In this post, you’re going to learn…

  • What “vertical search” is
  • Why it’s so critical for so many companies, and finally…
  • How to use the IBSO (Intent-Based Search Optimization) process to rank in search engines other than Google — such as Amazon, Pinterest, YouTube, and more

Ready to get started?

We’ll begin with how vertical SEO is different than Google SEO.

General Search vs. Vertical Search

Let’s say you own a Thai restaurant, and you’re trying to get your site in front of local people who are searching online.

Optimizing your business for the right vertical search engines can have a huge effect on your bottom line. ~Russ HenneberryOne search query that you want to target is “Thai food.”

But as anyone in the restaurant business can tell you, Google is NOT the only important search engine you have to keep in mind.

For local restaurants trying to attract new customers, Yelp is just as important as Google is.

But here’s the thing: Yelp and Google are different kinds of search engines with completely different algorithms.

Google is what we call a “general search engine.” You can go to Google to search for just about anything you can imagine.

Yelp, on the other hand, is a “vertical search engine.” In other words, it focuses on a specific niche, industry, or vertical. It’s more of a specialty search engine.

In the case of Yelp, that vertical includes local businesses — like restaurants, bars, hotels, and so on.

Other examples of vertical search engines include…

  • Amazon (for physical products)
  • Indeed (for jobs)
  • Trulia and Zillow (for real estate)

So, why is vertical search so important?

Research shows that searches conducted on vertical search engines are growing — especially on the all-important mobile device.

A 2013 comScore report revealed that vertical search grew 8% YoY while Google searches declined 2% YoY.

Meanwhile, an article in The New York Times revealed that Amazon gets more shopping searches than Google does.

Now, I’m not saying you need to be optimized for ALL vertical search engines. That wouldn’t make sense at all.

But optimizing your business for the right vertical search engines can have a huge effect on your bottom line.

So, the next thing you might be wondering is… how do you know which vertical search engines are important for your business?

And to answer that question, let’s turn to a concept called IBSO.

Introducing: Intent-Based Search Optimization (IBSO)

If there’s one SEO mistake that companies make all the time, it’s this:

They improve search rankings that don’t have any effect on their business. "...but those rankings don't translate to more traffic or conversions."

In other words, they either target the wrong keywords, optimize the wrong pages, or focus on the wrong search engines.

They end up with better rankings… but those rankings don’t translate to more traffic or conversions.

So, how do you avoid this super-common mistake?

By following IBSO.

Intent-Based Search Optimization, or IBSO for short, is a search optimization process that can help you to optimize your site not just to get better rankings…

…but to get more traffic, customers, and revenue.

Here’s what it looks like:

The six steps of intent-based search optimization

IBSO consists of six steps. Each step is simple and straightforward by itself, but when followed in a specific order, they can be very powerful.

Let’s run through all six steps now:

Intent-Based Search Optimization Step 1: Intent

The first question is simple: What is the prospect searching for? What’s the search query?

For our example, let’s use “Thai food.”

Intent-Based Search Optimization Step 2: Context

Next ask yourself: Why are they searching for this?

In our example, the answer is pretty simple. Because they’re hungry! It’s lunchtime, and they’re looking for something to eat.

Intent-Based Search Optimization Step 3: Asset

Next, you’ll have to think about this search from the searcher’s perspective. What is it they’re looking for? What sort of asset will satisfy their search?

By “asset,” I mean…

  • A page
  • A piece of content
  • An application
  • A tool

…or something that will make their problem go away.

(RELATED: Perfect Content Marketing: How Content Generates Leads and Sales at Every Step of the Funnel)

In our Thai food example, the asset that makes sense is a listing.

In other words, a page that contains information about the restaurant — its hours, menu, reviews, location, pictures, and so on. Information the searcher can use to determine where they want to go for lunch.

Intent-Based Search Optimization Step 4: Channel

Now that you know which asset will satisfy the person’s search, the next thing you need to figure out is: Where should that asset live?

In our example, we’ve determined that the asset they are looking for is a listing that contains information about the restaurant.

So where should that listing live?

Some of the vertical search engines that make sense for restaurant listings include:

  • Yelp
  • TripAdvisor
  • OpenTable
  • Google Maps

Many of the channels you list out in this step will be search engines, each of which has different ranking factors. Which brings us to…

Intent-Based Search Optimization Step 5: Optimization

Now that you know what kind of content to create and where to put it, the next step is to figure out how the prospect will find that asset.

When we talk about search optimization — whether it’s SEO for a general search engine like Google or optimizing for a vertical search engine like Yelp — this is where that search optimization takes place.

This is where it becomes crucial to understand different search algorithms and how each channel ranks the different assets on its website.

In our Thai food example, some of the things we’ll need to optimize for on Yelp include:

  • Getting more legitimate reviews
  • Raising our average review score
  • Optimizing our profile for the right keywords

We’ll dive into this step in more detail in just a moment. But first, let’s discuss…

Intent-Based Search Optimization Step 6: Ascension

Here is where you have to think about the next step in the Customer Journey. What do you want people to do AFTER they consume your content asset on the channel from Step 4?

What’s the next step?

In our Thai food example, the next step might be for the person to check out our menu and call to make a reservation or to place an order for delivery.

And that’s it!

That’s how you go through the IBSO process to determine what sort of content assets your business needs to develop and where they need to live.

Before we move on, let’s do another quick example:

  • Intent: What are people searching for? For this example let’s take a search query we have a lot of experience with here at DigitalMarketer: “Content marketing certification.”
  • Context: Why would someone search for that? Typically we find it’s because they want a better job — whether it’s a promotion, a brand-new job, or to enter into a new field entirely.
  • Asset: What sort of asset would a person be looking for when they performed that search? Someone looking for “certification” isn’t interested in short, easy-to-read posts; they’re looking for in-depth training. That’s why the best sort of asset for this search query would be a big pillar blog post or an article around the “ultimate guide to content marketing.”
  • Channel: If we built that asset, where would be the best place to put it? Obviously, we should post it on our blog, but there’s another great vertical search engine that makes perfect sense for people who are looking for a better job — LinkedIn.
  • Optimization: Now, how will prospects find that asset on LinkedIn? Simply put, this is where we have to optimize the post for vertical SEO on LinkedIn.
  • Ascension: Finally, what do we want to build into our asset that allows people to take the next step? In our case, we would include a link to the sales page for our Content Marketing Certification.

Now, let’s talk about…

How SEO Fits Into IBSO

I want you to notice something: IBSO has six steps, and we didn’t even mention search optimization until Step 5.

That’s because truly effective search optimization requires more up-front thought than most people give it.

"Truly effective search optimization requires more up-front thought than most people give it."Most marketers start by performing keyword research (Step 1 in IBSO), then jump straight to trying to optimize their site for that keyword (Step 5).

And they fail to take the time to figure out why people are searching for that query, what they’re really looking for, and where that asset should live.

This is a big part of the reason why so many marketers have such a hard time with SEO. And it’s also why many companies are able to increase their rankings without actually increasing their revenue.

But following IBSO can change all that.

And that’s why it’s important to figure out the Intent, Context, Asset, and Channel for your search term before you focus on the actual optimization process.

So, let’s talk about that stage in more detail by going through examples of how you can rank on several of the most popular vertical search engines.

How to Optimize for Search on Amazon

If you’re an ecommerce company selling physical products, there’s no doubt what the #1 biggest vertical search engine in your space is.

It’s Amazon.

This ecommerce giant has developed its own sophisticated search algorithm designed to return the search results that are most likely to maximize sales.

With that in mind, here are five Amazon product page elements to optimize for:

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Amazon Step 1: Sales Velocity

Sales velocity is defined as the speed at which you are receiving orders. Basically, it boils down to getting a high volume of sales as quickly as possible.

To this end, product launches are an important part of getting traction on Amazon.

By doing a promotional launch of your product, Amazon will think: “Oh, this is a hot product!” And as a result, they’ll start showing your product higher in the search results.

Here’s an example of a promotional page for an Amazon product that worked very well:

An example of a promotional page for a skin care product

Obviously offering your product for such a significant discount will eat away at your profit margins. In this case, it will even cost you money.

But the beauty of a product launch like this is that you don’t have to keep it running forever.

Once your sales velocity picks up, your Amazon rankings will improve.

Then you can discontinue the coupon deal and enjoy the increased sales that come as a result.

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Amazon Step 2: Verified Reviews

Verified reviews are a big part of the Amazon algorithm. The reason why is pretty simple: because Amazon knows that a high number of good reviews increases sales significantly.

Having trouble generating reviews on Amazon?

Try checking out a program like Feedback Genius. It’s well worth the investment if Amazon is an important part of your business.

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Amazon Step 3: Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Often, the search results you see on Amazon aren’t necessarily for the best products… but for the best-optimized product pages.

With that in mind, it’s important to create compelling search results that will increase your click-through rate (CTR).

If more people click on your product page, you will get more sales — and Amazon will be more inclined to display your product.

So, how do you do that?

By optimizing every element of your product listing page, including…

  • Product name
  • Product image
  • Product price and discount
  • Reviews
  • Availability

Here’s a great example of a well-optimized product listing — in other words, what people see on the Amazon search results page:

An example of a well-optimized product listing

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Amazon Step 4: Content

Step 3 was about optimizing your product listing.

This step is about creating the most compelling product page you can so that once people click on your product listing, they will be more likely to purchase your product.

To do this, it’s important to research your competitors to see what the best-selling products are doing. Then work on creating keyword-rich product pages by optimizing all the elements on that page:

  • Product title
  • Images and/or videos
  • Product price and discount
  • Reviews
  • Product description
  • Technical details (if applicable)
  • Product details (if applicable)
  • “From the manufacturer” details (if applicable)

Here’s the product page for the skin care serum we showed above. Notice how each of the “About the Product” bullet-points is a big, meaty paragraph full of benefits:

Product page for the skin care serum we showed above: Alina Skin Care

(RELATED: 13 Ways To Use To Pick Products and Niches, Craft Winning Offers, Increase Conversions And More)

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Amazon Step 5: Category

Finally, it’s important to make sure your product is listed in the correct category and is targeting the most relevant keywords.

This is vital to ensuring that your page shows up for people who are actually searching for you.

How to Optimize for Search on YouTube

Let’s say that your content asset (Step #3 of IBSO) is a video.

If that’s the case, then a likely channel for your search will be YouTube.

Here are the top five things to optimize your videos for on YouTube search:

Optimize for Vertical SEO on YouTube Step 1: Thumbnail Images

This is one of the most important things to optimize for on YouTube to increase video views. A good thumbnail will grab people’s attention and compel them to click on your video.

Here are some examples of good thumbnails:

6 examples of eye-catching YouTube thumbnails

Notice something all these thumbnails have in common?

They all make good use of text overlay on top of an eye-catching image.

If you aren’t sure how to create a thumbnail like this, it’s surprisingly easy — just sign up with Canva to customize your own thumbnails for free.

Optimize for Vertical SEO on YouTube Step 2: Engagement

Engagement metrics are a strong ranking signal for YouTube.

As more people like, share, and comment on your video, YouTube will start to find your content more engaging — and your YouTube rankings will increase as a result.

So, how can you optimize your video for engagement?

Creating a high-quality video is always a great start.

But you can also make calls-to-action (CTA) within the content of your video itself. Ask people to…

  • Like
  • Share
  • Comment

…on your video. By doing this, you can create a noticeable increase in your engagement metrics.

Optimize for Vertical SEO on YouTube Step 3: Content

Remember that YouTube is owned by Google. As a result, many of the traditional SEO techniques can help to improve your YouTube rankings.

So, what can you do?

Optimize your video’s…

  • Title
  • Description
  • Tags

…to include the keywords you want to rank for.

Here’s an example of a video that ranks for the keyword “how to tie a tie.” Notice how many times they use that keyword in the video’s description (the text below the video):

A YouTube video optimized for the keyword phrase: "how to tie a tie"

Optimize for Vertical SEO on YouTube Step 4: Video Retention

When trying to rank for vertical search, it’s helpful to think about things from the search engine’s perspective. What do they want searchers to do?

In this case, what does YouTube want people to do?

Well, YouTube earns its revenue from advertising — and the way they maximize that is to keep people on YouTube as long as possible.

With that in mind, another way of increasing your YouTube rankings is by improving your video retention rate. In other words: get more people to stay on your video longer.

You can see a graph of your video retention inside the YouTube Creator Studio:

Viewing video retention rate in the YouTube Creator Studio

One tip to increase video retention is to use a technique called “open loops.”

In other words, open a loop at the beginning of your video to pique viewers’ attention… then wait until later to pay it off. Like, “More on that in a minute, but first let’s look at…”

Novels and TV shows open loops all the time.

Typically, at the end of a chapter or an episode, a character is confronted with a shocking revelation or finds herself in a difficult dilemma. The loop has been opened.

And what does this get you to do? You turn the page or binge-watch the next episode to learn how it plays out and close the loop.

"Open a loop at the beginning of your video to pique viewer's attention."Use this tactic in your YouTube videos.

If you can arouse viewer’s curiosity at the beginning, they’ll stick around just to get the payoff when you close the loop.

Optimize for Vertical SEO on YouTube Step 5: Optimize for Ascension

Finally, always keep in mind what you want people to do next — after they finish watching — and include a CTA near the end of your video.

Do you want them to go to your website?

Download a free report?

Watch another video?

Here’s an example of a YouTube video from DigitalMarketer. Notice the CTAs are 1) to click to watch another YouTube video and 2) to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

A YouTube video from DigitalMarketer with the calls-to-action to subscribe to our channel and watch another video.

Keep in mind, YouTube wants people to stay on YouTube. So, anytime you can get people to click on another video, that will help your YouTube rankings even further.

(RELATED: How to Get 76,974 Youtube Views in 10 Days (The story of Emily Faith))

How to Optimize for Search on Pinterest

If you sell products online, Pinterest just might be a highly valuable vertical search engine for your business.

Here are four things to optimize for search on Pinterest:

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Pinterest Step 1: Images

Pinterest is a visual network, which means it’s crucial for your images to stand out and catch users’ attention.

Remember what we said about YouTube thumbnails? Using overlay text is vital to making your images stand out.

Here are a few examples of images that stand out from the pack and get high click-through rates:

Examples of Pinterest pins that use text overlays to stand out and get the click

A big part of the reason why these images stand out is because of their descriptive and eye-catching overlay text.

Another key is to use as much real estate as possible. For instance, this pin is 243×805:

A large Pinterest pin that uses as much real estate as possible to stand out

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Pinterest Step 2: Board Covers

Your board covers are another important element to optimize for. And once again, using text overlay is essential here.

You want your board covers to be super descriptive so people know exactly what’s in each board. Here’s an example of that from DIY Ready:

Descriptive Pinterest boards from DIY Ready

Pay attention to how simple and clear those board titles are. We’ll talk about why that’s important in the next step. (« See that? I just opened a loop. 🙂 )

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Pinterest Step 3: Keyword Targets

In Step 2, we mentioned how important it was to clearly describe each of your boards.

But what keywords should you use to do that?

Generally speaking, you want your board phrases to be as simple and descriptive as possible.

Don’t try to get cute with board names like “Mason Magnificence.” Instead, keep it descriptive with keywords like “Mason Jar Crafts.”

Nobody really knows what “Mason Magnificence” means. But everybody knows what “Mason Jar Crafts” are. And if someone is interested in mason jar crafts, that is what they’re going to search for.

One great way to find keywords inside of Pinterest is by using the auto-suggest keywords inside the search bar.

So, if you’re looking for keywords related to “mason jars,” then type “mason jar” into the search bar and see what keyword suggestions pop up underneath:

Searching for "mason jar" in Pinterest to see what keywords it prompts. You can use this technique for coming up with board names.

Then use that exact same keyword (exact match) for your board title to get the best search results on Pinterest.

Once you know your keyword, include it and keywords related to it within the description of your board:

A "Mason Jar Crafts" board optimized for the keyword phrase "mason jar crafts" and related keywords

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Pinterest Step 4: Don’t Forget to Optimize for Ascension

Finally, keep ascension in mind!

People typically use Pinterest as a sort of visual “wish list.” If someone pins a product, they’re interested in purchasing it!

So, give them a clear and easy way to visit your product page and buy from you.

A Pinterest pin that gives product information and links out to a product page where a user can buy the same product featured in the pin

(RELATED: How Ezra Firestone Generated $41,254.34 in Ecommerce Sales From $775.50 in Pinterest Ad Spend)

How to Optimize for Search on: Review Sites Like TripAdvisor & Yelp

Review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp are hugely important for many companies, especially local companies like restaurants, hotels, and bars.

Here are the most important things to optimize for on review sites:

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Review Sites Step 1: Legitimate Reviews

Don’t game reviews. Operationalize them.

In other words, never try to game the system by generating fake reviews. Even if you’re able to get away with it for a little while, you won’t get away with it forever.

Companies like Yelp depend on having legitimate reviews. As a result, they put a LOT of time and money into making sure their reviews are real.

If you try to generate fake reviews, they’ll find out sooner or later — and you’ll end up doing more harm than good to your search results.

Instead, go to work actually delivering a good service!

Improve your product, customer experience, and customer service to actually deserve more 5-star reviews.

Then start to ask for email addresses and reviews at the point of sale, so you can make sure you are asking for reviews on a regular basis.

Many review sites even have tools that can help generate more reviews from your customers. Here’s an example of such a tool called “Review Express” from TripAdvisor:

The Review Express tool from TripAdvisor

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Review Sites Step 2: Review Score

Next, understand that your review score trumps your review volume.

It’s better to have 100 reviews with a 4.5-star average than 10,000 reviews with a 2.2-star average.

Two things you can do to increase your review score are to rescue filtered reviews and to respond to reviews.

Review sites will frequently “filter out” reviews that they think might be fake. But in the process, sometimes they filter out real, legitimate reviews. "Your review score trumps your review volume."

Whenever this happens, you can reach out to that site and let them know that this is, in fact, a good review — “rescuing” it from the filtering process.

Next, reply to your reviews. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good review or a bad one; the important thing is to show people that you’re responsive to customer feedback.

If people see that you respond to your reviews online, it will give them the impression that your company is paying attention to its customer reviews and actively trying to provide a good customer experience.

Optimize for Vertical SEO on Review Sites Step 3: Own Your Profile

Finally, make sure that you own your profile so you can verify that everything on there is accurate and consistent with your website and other online listings.

In some cases, you might need to start a new profile. In others, you’ll need to claim an existing unclaimed page. Many review sites will let you claim your business — you’ll have to go through a series of steps to verify that it is, in fact, your business.

To do this on Yelp, for instance, look for the “claim this business” link:

The "claim this business" in Yelp

Next, when optimizing your profile, make sure to…

  • Use keywords where it’s natural to do so
  • Use categorization appropriately
  • Flesh out your profile using lots of images

All these things can help improve your review site rankings while also helping to convince more people to give your company a try.

A New Way to Think About Search Optimization

If you take one thing away from this post, let it be this:

Search optimization is about more than Google.

But it’s impossible to say exactly which non-Google search engines are the most important because they vary from business to business. "Search optimization is about more than Google."

To find out which search engines matter most to YOU, simply go through the IBSO process described in this post.

And if you want to become a true search optimization master…

…one who knows how to improve not just rankings, but traffic, customers, and revenue…

Then check out our Search Marketing Mastery course.

It’s the highest-level search marketing course we offer. You’ll learn how to increase your search rankings, drive more traffic, and transform that traffic into sales and valuable leads for your business.

Russ Henneberry

Russ Henneberry

Russ Henneberry is a digital marketer, speaker, and co-author of Digital Marketing for Dummies. Russ has helped hundreds of brands increase sales, leads, and retention including Crazy Egg,, and DigitalMarketer. Visit Russ's website or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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