SANTA CLARA, Calif. — A one-size-fits-all approach to online information may not suit all Web users, said Peter Horan, CEO of media and advertising for Barry Diller’s InterActiveCorp.
“People are shopping for authorities who look and sound like them. It may be that to be successful what you need is a multibrand strategy,” Horan said Wednesday during a presentation here at the annual local-search Internet conference, “Drilling Down on Local.”
It may not work to use one Web and “stretch it like Silly Putty to cover all audiences,” he said. It may be better to have multiple sites to target communities with different tastes and interests.
IAC, for example, acquired InsiderPages.com and will operate that site as a separate but parallel brand to Citysearch.com. Both sites offer business listings, ratings and reviews but will target different audiences. “Insider pages will have a slightly different tone, slightly different manner than Citysearch will have. Citysearch will tend to be a little bit more urban, a little bit more trend. Insider Pages will probably be a little bit more ‘soccer mom,’ a little bit more house and garden. And that’s OK, because as I look for reviews (as a consumer), part of what I’m saying is, ‘Do these folks sound like me? Do they look like me? Do they have my kind of taste?’ “
IAC also operates the Ask.com search site and local-search site Ask City, at http://city.ask.com, as well as numerous real estate-related brands including RealEstate.com, a portal that offers online lead-generation services for real estate professionals and company-owned real estate brokerage services for consumers. The company operates about 60 brands and had net income of about $192.6 million in 2006.
“To date we’ve been operating in a world of brand-driven media,” Cohen said, though that paradigm is shifting. Online consumers have a specific intent when they are searching on the Internet, he said, and they are seeking relevant and useful search results. “Brand aids the process but it doesn’t drive the process anymore. Ultimately it’s about relevance — it’s not about going to the brand first.”
Major media companies tend to focus on offering broad information to a large audience, he said, while consumers have an interest in more narrow subject matter that is relevant to a smaller audience. Blogs, online forums and user-generated content are a means to provide more relevant content to consumers in a very local context, he said.
In the Bakersfield, Calif., area, The Bakersfield Californian media company has launched a set of different products to reach different segments of the community. Mary Lou Fulton, another presenter at the local-search conference who serves as vice president of audience development for the news company, said the strategy is a realization that it’s “going to take more than one product, one platform to meet the growing needs of our community.” The company operates eight Web sites that include profiles, blogs, social networking, comments and reviews, Fulton said.
She also said that the company has worked to mediate community-generated ratings content so that it is more meaningful to consumers and potentially less damaging to businesses. For example, she said the company uses a reputation-based system that defines the number of reviews that a member has to post and the number of times a reviewer receives positive ratings in order to be considered a trusted member of the online community.
Glenn Goad, executive vice president of consumer strategy for Network Communications Inc., a publisher of print and online real estate information who participated in a panel at the conference, said user-generated content poses a challenge to advertisers, and his company does not allow online reviews of its real estate advertisers.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere close to putting (those reviews) up yet. We are not prepared as a company to deal with that yet. We are a trusted partner with our advertisers. I don’t see us getting in a position where (a review states) ‘Don’t call this Realtor, they’re not that good.’ We present (them) in a way that they’ve paid us to present them.”
But he said that the company will move in that direction as its customers demand more consumer-generated information. “We believe over time we can figure that out.” Such are the challenges of user-generated content.
Horan said that negative reviews featured at IAC’s sites “are part of the deal” that makes the content more relevant to consumers. If all of the reviews are glowing endorsements, they’re going to look like paid advertisements rather than meaningful content, he said. “We’ll try to make sure it’s not somebody with a vendetta, but we’ll publish bad reviews.”
Brokerage company ZipRealty.com, is an example of a real estate site that allows registered site users to comment on individual homes, and the company moderates the responses it receives.
Ralph Kunz, another speaker at the local-search conference who oversees mobile-phone giant Nokia’s multimedia division, said user-generated content can be viewed as “both an opportunity and a threat to a certain extent,” and this user content can supply Web sites with “nonstatic content” that is fresh, dynamic and cost-effective.
Goad and other conference participants noted a trend toward Web video content to engage site users. “The person who has the most listings is not going to win this game,” he said. “It’s who has the best 101 Main St.” — quality vs. quantity. Goad said his company entered into an agreement with a video production company, for example, and Horan announced a similar deal to bring merchant videos to the Citysearch site.
It stands to reason that real estate video can be more relevant than digital photos, just as multiple house photos can be more meaningful to consumers than a single photo, said Craig Donato, co-founder of classified search site Oodle.com.