On their web sites, traditional consumer magazines seem to be primarily focused on browsing rather than searching behaviors. Even so, nearly all the Top 50 most circulated magazines have installed site search features.
We decided to check out these sites further, and share our notes about what gets produced through the search boxes today. To see what happens, we searched Britney, chocolate, Iraq and also clicked on options available from the search result pages.
Among the Top 50, some 46 titles provide search on the homepage and throughout their sites. Most sites include search boxes within their site templates, typically in the upper right of each page. The homepages are not encouraging or promoting active search. Instead they highlight major stories, or show many different sections and links that engage visitors.
There's tremendous variation in the site search options. Nine sites display simple article results, without any bells and whistles. Seven have some kind of recipe search, either as a tier or separate search. Many incorporate various kinds of structured categories or filters to refine searches.
In terms of site search suppliers, only six rely on Google or Yahoo. One uses Microsoft. Among the rest, there are no clear “powered by” attributions so they may be created in-house or farmed out.
Some sites offer browsing through directory-like options. Good examples are Parenting and FamilyFun, which provide specific categories leading to appropriate content. It seems like an awful lot of work for the web producers, because they have taxonomy, database and perhaps editorial work required to post content online.
Ten sites enable you to search or sort by date, including three which have archives to search. It's interesting that magazines are not finding better ways to monetize their archived content. Perhaps the publishers think of these articles as obsolete, but there's a treasure trove in these name-brands that's cast aside. There are hurdles in making all the older content web-ready, but text versions could be archived.
Some sites approach searching much like libraries, where you can search publications, authors and article titles. Time uses this approach as part of its comprehensive selection, and also has an archive dating back nine years. Others like Entertainment Weekly and Golf Digest also provide search in this manner.
A handful of magazines produce tiered search results for their sites. Shape and InStyle are good examples, where results are shown within categories and anyone can click for more. Other magazines enable searching beyond their own site, such as Good Housekeeping within the iVillage network.
Only six sites offer external web search. One shows search results which link to web sites mentioned in articles. Overall, it's safe to assume these publishers want to be online destinations rather than vertical portal plays.
Newer Search Approaches:
We see some early signs of multimedia searching. US News & World Report has a video search when you arrive on video pages. Real Simple indicates if a search result is video. The other publishers show videos, but may not have enough inventory or desire to search them separately.
Photo searches are surprisingly sparse. There are searches available in People and Teen People. Given all the terrific photos that are owned by the magazines, it would be good to see them develop photo searching apart from what appears in their articles.
Community participation is lagging when compared to non-magazine sites. Only a handful offer user-generated tools, so there isn't much to search. Popular Science leads the way with search based on overall visitor and site interests. Prevention offers searching within its forums. The magazines have rolled out blogs to keep things more current, including postings from editors and reporters. Not much searching is available across blog information yet.
“Magazines are perfectly positioned to take advantage of digital platforms,” according to MPA President and CEO Nina Link. “They bring world class content. They bring community. They bring an edited voice and point of view. They bring advertising and sponsorship relationships. They bring incredible visual images.”
That may be so. Trying to find what interests you, or matters to you, is still a challenge. It's obvious these powerhouse publishers should start looking at core search and newer search approaches -- or sacrifice the upside traffic and revenue potential for their brands online.
See also: Consumer Mags Are Waking Up