Yahoo! Content is valuable again

The following was written for our employee newsletter and is reprinted here in the interests of transparency to our reader community.

Something very weird is happening at one of the world’s largest search engine companies. You know – the one that isn’t Google.

For the last several months, Yahoo has been quietly reaching out and poaching highly talented – and in some cases relatively high-profile – journalists from all sorts of established news organizations and blogs like Newsweek, Politico and Gawker. It has promoted one of them, Andrew Golis, to lead the creation of original content across its network, primarily on a group blog it calls the Newsroom. This blog is expected to be renamed and completely redesigned by the end of this year and kick off a parade of similar micro-publications focused around sports, lifestyles and media. To cap things off, late last month Yahoo also bought Associated Content, a Web publishing company with 380,000 freelance contributors.

To say that this is zigging where the rest of the industry is zagging is something of an understatement. With newspapers closing (or severely downsizing) everywhere, and even Web-based publications fizzling out on what seems like a monthly basis, a conventional wisdom seemed to be emerging that content, as we know it, has for the most part become a commodity. And certainly news falls into that category. If you wanted to be in the content business, experts suggested, it was better to focus on multimedia like video, or simply aggregating stories rather than creating them yourself. And if you were going to have them created, success stories like Demand Media implied, don’t pay much and don’t worry about whether the content is any good. Yahoo’s latest moves counter all these notions. (Yahoo is not alone, either: Forbes magazine recently bought True/Slant, another burgeoning site for cutting-edge writer-reporters.)

In an interview with Business Insider, Golis described the unique situation of creating a content strategy for Yahoo:

“It's like doing a startup, except we've already got the biggest news audience in the country,” Golis said. “It's a startup without all the stress … We have all sorts of resources, and the people at Yahoo are already brilliant at making money off the site.”

Must be nice. There are other challenges, however: “The strategy is to figure out Yahoo's audience as best we can, to get quality information in front of them as often as possible and break stories that it would not have ocurred to them to ask for,” he said.

This is what any good publication tries to do – something that business publications, when they’re at their best, do better than anyone else. It’s also not that far removed from our own goals at IT World Canada. Though a lot of effort between editorial, Web Ops and SEO, we’re trying to figure out what technology professionals are looking for on search engines and then using that as the basis for some of our assignments. I say “some” because there are still many other elements that go into determining the most relevant stories to tell. Even Yahoo, which obviously has a more search data to work with, believes this.

“It doesn't become our editorial director, but we can get that kind of data and do pieces that we know will resonate,” Golis said.

Who knows whether it will work, but searching for pieces that resonate – through SEO or otherwise – continues to be the heart of what we do every day: creating something worth reading. We have our struggles, but it’s inspiring to realize that as we strive to become a bit more like Yahoo, Yahoo is striving to become a bit more like us.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Shane Schick
Shane Schick
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