Tag Archives: boston.com

Boston.com: No More Keyword Sales, But Search is Leverageable

Newspapers haven’t done too well with local search, despite efforts to leverage their potential mix of human editors and algorithms. But Boston.com made more of an effort than many others, launching a local search effort in 2006. As chronicled by Nieman Lab, that effort started out on a promising note but quickly plateaued.

Given the lackluster results, Boston.com might have dumped its search efforts altogether. But the project’s sunk costs – over six figures – were too great to ignore. This was especially the case given the newspaper’s money crisis.

Instead, the site lowered expectations. As we noted in our coverage at that time, Boston.com let Google handle many of the search site elements, and started thinking of its end of the equation as as a “platform” rather than a “product.” Basically, it decided to get out of the business of selling keywords.

VP of Products and Technology Bob Kempf told Nieman that Boston.com essentially decided to use the search platform to “find, assemble, and publish targeted content” around the core information. That would deepen Boston.com’s relationship with users, even if they also used other search engines for research and discovery.

The effort has also better positioned the site for hyperlocal “Your Town” sites in the Boston-area. Targeted articles get pushed out to neighborhood sections. Ultimately, Kempf told Nieman that he believes the search platform will offset the initial investment.

Will any newspapers ultimately breakthrough with local search sales? This is the question that will be addressed on the podium when The LA Times’ Andy Vogel shares the stage with WebVisible’s Kirsten Mangers and Yodle’s Court Cunningham at ILM:09 next week.

Boston.com Launches Virtual Bulletin Board

It would be a pity if The New York Times Co.’s Boston Globe were shut down, because its Boston.com site continues to innovate with local online advertising capabilities. Today, the company’s YourTown hyperlocal sites launched Flyerboards: a virtual bulletin board on which businesses can post “flyers” to advertise their services and events.

The technology behind Flyerboard, by New Haven-based PaperG, automatically converts images into flyers . What makes it different from other print conversion programs is that it also enables various Web 2.0 functionality, including email sharing, social networking and online maps (although vendors like Travidia and HarvestInfo have been adding a host of advanced solutions to their own offerings).

Boston.com’s plans are to initially launch Flyerboard on Newton, Needham, Waltham and Wellesley. Other communities will eventually being added.

One touted advantage of the Flyerboard is that it can be sold on a self-serve basis. Alternatively, publishers can bundle Flyerboard sales with other sponsorships.

PaperG CEO Victor Wong tells us that more deals for the Flyerboard are set to be announced in coming weeks by several additional newspaper companies. “It is already live with 50 websites,” largely focused on the college market, he says. For those sites, Wong says it is “outperforming the click through rates of banner ads and Google at a fraction of the cost.”

GateHouse Sues Boston.com’s HyperLocal Site for News Links

Hyperlocal sites aspire to grab headlines from everywhere and be a one stop for the neighborhood. That’s been accepted practice, providing the site links back to the origination site, and too much copy isn’t exposed. It tends to build traffic for everyone.

But GateHouse Media, which owns 125 newspapers across Massachusetts, doesn’t feel especially grateful about the linking that has been done by Boston.com’s prototype hyperlocal YourTown site for Newton, MA. In fact, GateHouse has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

The suit contends that Boston.com’s deep linking directly to the article bypasses WickedLocal’s homepage, and implies an endorsement by listing the title of the local papers next to articles. Gatehouse specifically complains of “unfair competition, false advertising, trademark dilution, unfair business practices and other misconduct.”

The suit hasn’t intimidated Boston.com from continuing its practice. Today’s website features several links. And no one is contending that linking is unprecedented. In fact, in a writeup of the lawsuit in The Boston Globe, it is pointed out that Gatehouse frequently links to The Globe’s articles, too. But the lawsuit might bear paying attention to, with possible implications not only for the turf war in Boston, but also for place blogging in general.

Boston.com’s hyperlocal sites in themselves feature local news and information, a local calendar, a local Wiki and real estate listings, focused on a particular community. While the lawsuit focuses on the Newton site, additional sites have since been launched in Needham and Waltham. Boston.com VP Bob Kempf, who has spearheaded the hyperlocal effort, previously served as a GateHouse executive, and is the originator of the WickedLocal site.

Boston.com Teams with Google for Local Search

Last week, we wrote about The Seattle Times Co. and its new “Network search,” which is powered with FAST. This week, we are covering The Boston Globe’s Boston.com and its new “Federated” search solution, powered by Google.

Federated and Network search are different names for pretty much the same thing. But even as the respective newspapers try to tackle the issues of incorporating small-business advertisers and the elements of local search, they are taking somewhat different approaches.

Boston.com’s mission is to move away from “newspaper.com” toward becoming the aggregator of local community content, notes VP of Product Bob Kempf. The site has taken several concrete steps to get there, including local news outreach, crawls for local events, multimedia search, and perhaps most importantly, business listing search (i.e., Yellow Pages).

The initial step was making the news from The Boston Globe and content from Boston.com searchable. But since then, it has also reached out to 4,500 local Boston-area sites to supplement the content.

The event listings, using ZVents, was something that added a unique element to the site and “quadrupled the amount of listings,” says Kempf. It is more than just effective crawling. Users are seeing that the site has a really good event guide and submitting listings of their own.

Multimedia is another key ingredient for the site and its 360-degree, federated search strategy. As the site has added more and more audio and video, its content has become less findable. But that has been helped by adding search, via Everyzing, a vendor that transcribes audio content to track the content.

The multimedia application “doesn’t bring in huge traffic,” but it is very relevant for a news site, says Kempf. And it goes way beyond the search box. “What we’re doing is adding little ‘searchlets’ into the site, he notes. “We drop [clips of] Manny Ramirez right into articles.”

The business listing effort, on the other hand, suggests the strongest revenue opportunities. Many newspapers are relying on local search vendors such as Planet Discover, Local.com and Harvest Info.

But Kempf’s team reached a conclusion that those solutions would probably always be “second rate” compared with one provided by a major search engine (i.e., Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft). He notes the search engines are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into search algorithms, making relevant matches to queries, ratings and reviews.

Ultimately, Boston.com chose to partner with Google for a variety of considerations, including the power of the Google Maps brand, which appears alongside Boston.com when you go into Business Listings; its relatively low upfront cost (it pays Google just a small amount for the searches that are actually made); access to its extensive tool set; its high level of maintenance; and the ease of using Google’s licensed listings instead of having to make its own deals with a listing company. Google’s broader deal with The New York Times Co. might have had some influence as well.

Boston.com also appreciated the ability to use Google to build out a tiered list of searches that any newspaper would want to have; a “white list” for pure listing lookups; a “gray list” for in between searches, such as place names; and a “black list” for inappropriate searches, such as tying merchandise ads to a news story on a murder in Worchester.

On a business basis, the deal with Google gives Boston.com a chance to make money on reselling the CPM at higher rates and also from local AdSense ads that appear alongside the searches, says Kempf. It also provides new inventory to sell around the search box — not dissimilar to what newspapers have always done, selling mortgage ads around real estate listings and other content.

What Kempf and his team haven’t begun to work on is any search integration with classifieds, an area he admits is the “least sexy.” It also hasn’t begun to aggressively sell to smaller local advertisers — something The Seattle Times appears to be far in front of. “It was very core for GateHouse,” where Kempf worked on Wicked Local in the suburbs that surround Boston, one of the first federated search projects. “But it isn’t core for us.”

In a followup email to me after this post was written, Kempf clarifies:”Classifieds are on the roadmap but not on the immediate roadmap; small business listings very much are core and are on the immediate roadmap.”

Next steps that Kempf envisions include using the search technology to help develop more vertical directories, such has health and business. The site is also getting a massive dose of TV and radio promotion, where Boston.com is not treated as a newspaper, but as an information source.

“The trick is to untrain users for news,” he says. In a followup email to me, also cited above, Kempf adds: “The news use case remains core and very important to us. Expanding beyond that use is the challenge. I wouldn’t want your readers to think that we’ve abandoned news or its importance to us.”