The first page of search is the query page (like www.google.com), the second page is the search results, and the third is a destination page on yet another search engine or aggregator that's been optimized for that query.
Though this initially sounds obvious, I think the characterization clarifies typical user-behavior (no matter how irrational) and suggests methods of shifting traffic from the second page to your company's site. In his elaboration of Ms Li's post, David Beisel makes the important observation that content aggregators are not the only companies that can benefit from an SEO strategy. Search engines should join the fray, too. With so many vertical search engines popping up, it's absurd to think brand-building will help a user to figure out which site they need to solve their problem. Users turn to Yahoo first because they usually don't know a better place to start their query or because they want to see different options side-by-side.
The problem with the Third Page is a proliferation of spam by both legitimate and illegitimate companies. A search for hotels in a specific city will yield results from spam sites, hoteliers, travel search engines, hotel review sites, and a host of spammers. The more companies that do this, the more confused users will get when they run a query. In the long run, it's Yahoo's job to do a better job of filtering a user to the search engine or content site that best suits the user's current need. In the meantime, I see two kinds of pages that vertical search engines should create and optimize:
- Static search pages -- create crawlable static search result page. The content can be updated regularly, so the pages are fresh
- Content pages -- sites like SideStep and Healthline create their own content and collect it from their partners. All of this should be exposed in static links.