Seattle Times Co. Launches ‘Network Search’

seattletimes2.jpg One big takeaway from the NAA Marketing show last week in Orlando was that newspapers are ready to build up a zillion niche products that allow them to leverage their editorial talents. But not much progress, or even attention, is being paid to local search. It makes you wonder if newspapers are really serious about reaching out to the high volume of small businesses in their communities that have previously relied entirely on Yellow Pages.

The Seattle Times Co., however, is definitely an exception to the rule. Today, it launched “Network Search” across all its newspaper and vertical services, including Seattletimes.com, SeattlePI.com, NWsource.com, NWJobs.com, NWautos.com, NWapartments.com and NWHomes.com. The new search — which is not unlike the “Federated Search” solutions available from Harvest Info and Gannett’s Planet Discover — also incorporates some blogs and other sources.

Developed with FAST Search and Transfer (which is being purchased by Microsoft), Network Search bites the bullet with a single search box.

Many papers have been reluctant to go in that direction because the results would be too generalized. But the end result is that some papers have a dozen or more search boxes. And nobody ever thinks to look for anything on the site. They just go to Google.

One immediate advantage of The Times’ Network Search is that it opens up sponsored search advertising in a big way — something that has been largely hit or miss using third parties. In my limited testing, it works well.

A search for “Dungeness Crabs,” for instance, returns news stories on the harvest and restaurants where you can get them. It also has helpful sponsored search results for several excellent mail-order houses. A search for “Marqueen” has all the reviews and news to the nice boutique hotel in Queen Anne. And helpful sponsored searches for the competition.

A search for “Maria Cantwell,” on the other hand — the only senator I know since she used to do business development for Real Networks — returns her office’s latest news releases and news stories. And then also sponsored links for “Cantwell Hotels” and other things that probably have nothing to do with her. That’s probably the way it should work.

Seattle Times Interactive head Patricia Lee Smith says she believes the site has unmatched local content and “a uniquely local lens” that non-native search engines probably can’t hope to match in the foreseeable future. “This will also be the first of many advertising trials to connect local businesses with online readers via targeted search advertising,” she says.

Smith also promises that the search initiative is going to go deeper and deeper. The search box, for instance, will eventually be introduced on each of the Times Co.’s marketplace sites.

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