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Yahoo Using Search To Help Determine News Coverage

Yahoo has been investing in news, including original content development. Consistent with its content strategy the company paid roughly $100 million for “content farm” Associated Content just a few months ago. And, according to the New York Times, Yahoo is now planning to use search and search query volume to help drive editorial coverage.

Yahoo is going to more systematically pay attention to search queries to help its editorial staff decide what to write about on a forthcoming news blog called “The Upshot.” According to the Times:

Yahoo software continuously tracks common words, phrases and topics that are popular among users across its vast online network. To help create content for the blog, called The Upshot, a team of people will analyze those patterns and pass along their findings to Yahoo’s news staff of two editors and six bloggers.

The news staff will then use that search data to create articles that — if the process works as intended — will allow them to focus more precisely on readers.

The Times’ article suggests controversy surrounding the approach:

“There’s obviously an embedded negative view toward using any type of outside information to influence coverage,” said Robertson Barrett, chief strategy officer of Perfect Market Inc., a company that helps news organizations make their content more detectable to search engine algorithms.

But there really shouldn’t be any. In the abstract the idea of using technology to influence editorial decision-making, especially in news, is troubling to many. But all Yahoo appears to be doing is trying to determine areas of audience interest and focusing some coverage on those areas.

Yahoo appears to be using search queries as a real-time focus group or to uncover specific topics of interest:

Yahoo had been monitoring search traffic patterns and noticed that its users kept trying to find out why divers would shower after they got out of the water. So Yahoo sports writers looked into the question and posted an item titled “The mystery of the showering divers.”

Search therefore is simply one factor in editorial decision-making in this new Yahoo news effort. I would argue this is smart and may lead to some interesting articles.

This is quite different from, say, the approach being taken by some of the content farms, and reportedly even AOL in some cases, where articles are almost entirely written to capture search traffic and are subordinate to advertising because their reason for being is to generate page views.

Yahoo has historically been the top news destination online. But the competition is intensifying.

Google News recently introduced a major redesign with more personalization and social features. And MSNBC recently redesigned its site with less emphasis on page views and greater emphasis on content. This approach flies in the face of many sites, including the wildly popular HuffingtonPost, which have been trying to generate page views with gimmicks, slide shows and even “NSFW” headlines and stories.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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