Writing Letters: Yahoo

Dear Yahoo,

I get that you’re a really big company. You brand yourself as one of the top companies in the world for getting users the information they want through searching, advertising, and news/media generation. I empathize with the fact that your news section  has hundreds, probably thousands, of articles posted daily. I even understand that you probably have your ‘top headlines’ email auto-generated based on article popularity.

What I don’t think YOU understand is how all that automation wastes your customer’s time and can negatively affect your profits.

The ridiculousness of automated headlines gets compounded when they’re all aggregated together in a “daily headlines” email.

For example:

Let’s say today’s email features 14 headlines (how the number of headlines varies from day to day is a blog post of its own… ).  I’ve noticed you have a tendency to repeat subjects in articles that aren’t all that different from one another. In this case it boils down to three of those 14 headlines being about story A and two about story B. This means five of your headlines are about just two topics.  Five of fourteen is nearly half of your stories. Instead of clicking through to your site to learn or read about 14 items, I’m reading 11 or fewer. Not only does this repetition leave customers annoyed, but can also upset your bottom line.

How? Well,  a person who signs up to receive your “daily headlines” email and actually wants to read every story, will self-select to read the eleven stories that aren’t redundant. And really, why should they click on the 3rd article about an earthquake when they already got the scoop two articles ago. This reduces your page views, reduces ad impressions, and reduces the impressiveness of the statistics you can use to sell ads and other partner deals.

Did you notice all the duplicate stories here?

Did you notice all the duplicate stories here?

You’re probably thinking that each of those repeat articles still gets a lot of views and they cover the story from different angles. I’m sure you’re right, but it doesn’t mean it makes sense or that it doesn’t have an impact on your readers.

Take this batch of daily headlines  –  there are multiple stories covering Blackhawks v. Bruins in the first game of the Stanley Cup finals:

YahooDailyNewsHeadlines-ChangedStories

Maybe if you had lead with the 2nd OT article, followed by the 3rd OT, and finally the actual outcome of the game, it may have at least built up some suspense.

Your headlines show the game going into 2nd overtime, 3rd overtime, and then final score, IN REVERSE ORDER. :) Why is this better than just the final score article – which I’m sure includes all the details on what kept things moving from regular period to 1 OT to 2 OT to 3 OT and Final.

This isn’t limited to hockey, because you did the same thing with the NBA playoffs from the day before:

YahooDailyNewsHeadlines-ChangedStories-NBA

Why are you trying to tell me what the current score in the 3rd quarter is when the Spurs already won the game and went home for the night?

Your readers are probably frustrated at having to comb through all the duplicates. Worse, wasting time reading through partial stories when the full information is readily available. Your website is not getting readers to the good, final story that will keep them reading and tick up those ad impression that help you make money.

Even if you are going to continue to aggregate, write lots of content that’s similar in topic, and continue to auto-collate all your daily headline emails, you can still improve the automation process. I am confident that you have enough programming prowess in your offices that someone should be able to create and refine a program that checks for similar headlines, discards the 2nd one (or earlier article, which helps with items like sports game updates), and adds another headline to the list. Maybe even something as easy as ‘Spurs’ appears in one  article, so the next ‘Spurs’ that appears in a headline gets the whole story removed.

Will you possibly discard articles on two IRS-related articles that actually feature different content? Sure.

Will you get more variety of content, prevent email subscriber loss, and probably gain more ad impressions? Absolutely.

Taking more care in how you curate the top content for email alerts feels like a small thing. But it can help so much with preventing reader fatigue and driving up your ad impressions. Keep your customers saying ‘Yahoo!’, instead of “ugh, not this story again!”

Onward and upward!
Sheri