Technology

Yahoo's New Appeal to Women


The Internet giant hopes to attract more women with a new content site that will incorporate user home pages and blogs

Given how the media world has changed in recent years, it's fitting that what's essentially the next major women's magazine will come courtesy of Yahoo! (YHOO).

Against the turbulent backdrop of Microsoft's (MSFT) bid to buy the Web portal and reports of its own maneuvers to find alternate deal partners, Yahoo is quietly putting the finishing touches on a major new content site aimed at women between the ages of 25 and 54. Much like a general-interest women's magazine, the site will focus on familiar content categories: fashion and beauty, entertainment, health, astrology, home, food, parenting, relationships, and work and money. It's not yet clear what the site will be called, but one name in contention is Shine.

Despite Yahoo's well-annotated stock price ills, comScore (SCOR) data still show the portal as the most-trafficked site among U.S. Web users. Its key category sites in the areas of finance, sports, and news are the most-trafficked spots of their ilk as well. (Although Yahoo Sports has been tussling with ESPN.com for the top slot of late.) The company has similar aims for its women's site. "At Yahoo, we have to publish in categories that have super-mass scale," says Scott Moore, a Yahoo senior vice-president and head of media. Accordingly, he adds, "Our ambitions are very big."

Leading the Pack

Top players among what comScore identifies as "women's community" sites are NBC Universal's iVillage.com (GE), AOL Living (TWX), and fast-rising newcomer Everyday Health. Those three sites respectively notched 17.8 million, 16.9 million, and 14.4 million unique U.S. visitors in January.

Yahoo executives argue that women are broadly underserved online, which the established players in the space would dispute. But other recent developments hint at increased activity at female-aimed online plays. A quintet of high-powered media professionals—adwoman Mary Wells, gossip columnist Liz Smith, pundit Peggy Noonan, the journalist Lesley Stahl, and former top publishing executive Joni Evans—joined up to launch wowowow.com, a Web site aimed at women over 40. And InterActiveCorp's (IACI) search engine, Ask.com, is expected to sharpen the focus on its predominately female audience.

The new site's editor-in-chief will be Brandon Holley, who came to Yahoo in November, 2007, after stints as top editor of the now-defunct magazines Elle Girl and Jane. Holley is overseeing an edit staff of about 12, which, she notes, is around a quarter of the size of the staff she headed at those magazines.

A One-Stop Shop

The reigning ethos of Web media, and especially the digital cognoscenti, would appear to argue against a site that acts as a giant, edited aggregator of sorts. Yahoo-ites involved with the project reject this, pointing to the portal's success in attracting Web surfers to broad sites like Yahoo News. They also claim that Yahoo's extensive data on Web users—particularly from the roughly 40 million women between the ages of 25 and 54 who visit Yahoo each month—give them a unique leg up in designing such an ambitious site. "She would like to come to one place," says Holley of the target consumer. "A one-stop shop.… They are just not satisfied with what they are finding in their various pockets."

The appearance of the site will differ somewhat from Yahoo's extant category plays. Mock-up pages spotlight many short items; having multiple options to click on gives the pages more of what Moore terms a "blogroll" feel. Users will be able to create their own blogs, some of which may be spotlighted by the editors. They will also be able to create their own home pages, and be able to "clip" certain articles and put them on such pages, although that technology is not expected to be in place at the launch in early spring.

Yahoo executives say they are in advanced discussions with several established publishers over content partnerships, although no deals are finalized. Yahoo is also expected to link out to other sites' offerings. Yahoo executives have scheduled group meetings in three cities, to reach out to key female bloggers and other women it has identified as influential. The first such meeting will be Mar. 8 in San Francisco.

Fine is BusinessWeek's media columnist. Check out his Fine on Media blog.

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