A vertical search engine is distinct from a general web search engine, in that it focuses on a specific segment of online content. They are also called specialty or topical search engines. Common verticals include shopping, the automotive industry, legal information, medical information, scholarly literature, job search and travel.

In contrast to general web search engines, which attempt to index large portions of the World Wide Web using a web crawler, vertical search engines typically use a focused crawler which attempts to index only relevant web pages to a pre-defined topic or set of topics.