Brands Aren't Dead On Yahoo News
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If you're convinced that the search engines have it in for branded content -- including branded news -- then I'd like you to consider the new Yahoo search. Specifically, I'd like you to consider the search filtering option from Yahoo's newly launched search features.
The filtering feature offers logo buttons through which searchers can filter their searches to specific sites that might be relevant for a given term. Searching for "headache"? You can look through standard Yahoo results -- or you can click on one of the side buttons and search for results appearing within MedicineNet, the National Library of Medicine, or Wikipedia. "Corkscrew"? Yahoo suggests that you may want to search within Cooking.com or eHow. "Chinos" calls up Ralph Lauren, Target, and L.L. Bean; "power drill" calls up Lowe's; "credit cards" brings up Discover.
And so Yahoo now gives you two options for your searches: you can let Yahoo rank all the pages across the entire searchable Web. Or you can let Yahoo help you search only within a handful of particular Web sites. The choice is yours.
That's a big deal in the history of search against the brands. After all, there's been much speculation that search would kill the concept of brand value: after all, who needs a Nike swoosh or a New York Times logo to explain the value of a page, when a search engine can simply determine relevancy for you? And, to a strong extent, this kind of democratization has happened: in product search pages, for instance, price alone often trumps brand. More generally, rather than letting brands tell consumers which items are the most valuable to them, search has helped users find the products, services, and information they want, in a way that is often highly brand-agnostic -- something that is really bad for the concept of brand equity.
And yet the Yahoo search filter seems to suggest that, just possibly, the idea of the brand isn't dead after all. With branded search filtering, Yahoo is acknowledging that many searchers don't want results from just anywhere, regardless of how algorithmically relevant those results may be. Searchers want results (from trusted Web sites) -- which is to say, from trusted online brands.
What's particularly interesting here is the way that Yahoo chooses the suggested sites to display. According to my contacts at Yahoo, Yahoo chooses the suggested sites based on a combination of algorithm, plus simple user popularity: the more searchers who click on a site for related searches, the more likely Yahoo is to suggest that a user limit his or her searches to that site alone. Yahoo recognizes the value of brand equity to searches, and is going so far as to calculate brand equity in ways that are slightly reminiscent of notions like PageRank. Yahoo seems to want brand to be a fundamental part of the search discussion.
Bringing things back to the news discussion, the Yahoo filtering feature is in full force within news searches. A few examples: a Yahoo search for "g-20 summit" offers results drawn specifically from within The Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph; for "qaddafi," CBS News and Fox News; "nicolas sarkozy," Time, BBC News, and CNN.
Admittedly, I'm not referring to searches in Yahoo news, in which these filtering buttons don't appear. I'm referring to news terms in the general Yahoo Search. But at least in the case of Yahoo, it does seem as if searchers are still willing to embrace branded sites, and the engines are interested in helping searchers find the branded content sites they're looking for -- if only in the name of user share. The fear that generic news text snippets alone will overtake major news outlets may be slightly overstated, after all.I'm not arguing that the traditional news business is wrong in seeing search engines as a grave danger to its traditional business model. But I am arguing that branded news content can truly thrive online -- and that, sometimes, the engines can even be a catalyst for that success