Web sites adopt more ethnic approach

Google's competitors have previously attempted to break into the dominant search engine's market share by improving their own algorithms and Web site features to capture more of the Web. However, IAC/InteractiveCorp, owner of Ask.com, is trying to attract consumers with Rushmore Drive (rushmoredrive.com), a search site promising interesting and easy-to-find content for the black community.

Google's competitors have previously attempted to break into the dominant search engine's market share by improving their own algorithms and Web site features to capture more of the Web. However, IAC/InteractiveCorp, owner of Ask.com, is trying to attract consumers with Rushmore Drive (rushmoredrive.com), a search site promising interesting and easy-to-find content for the black community.

Although the site was built for the US' black community - which, according to IAC's definition, includes African Americans and individuals of black Caribbean and black Hispanic descent - people of any ethnicity can use it to find relevant information, says Lisa Osborne Ross, Ogilvy's EVP and director of specialized communications, who worked with IAC to promote Rushmore Drive.

Products and Web sites more commonly searched by black Web users, however, will appear in a higher position within Rushmore Drive's results, she adds.

"Let's say I want information on [Sen.] Barack [Obama (D-IL)], [Sen.] Hillary [Rodham Clinton, (D-NY)], and the Pennsylvania primary. I can Google [it] and I'll get information about Obama and Clinton," explains Ross. "If I go to Rushmore Drive, I can get that same information and I'll also find out how black people nationwide, or in Pennsylvania, feel about Obama and Clinton."

Although it targets one general demographic, Rushmore Drive, which launched April 9, uses a common search-engine strategy and applies it to a narrowly defined group of people. For instance, an individual search on Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft Live Search for skin-care products may find goods specifically created for black people far down on the list of results. However, on Rushmore Drive, products used by those consumers will likely appear near the top of the list, according to Ross.

The effort to target Web users by their ethnicities extends beyond search engines to social networking sites. Radio One this month acquired Community Connect, which owns Web sites such as BlackPlanet.com, MiGente.com, and AsianAve.com, for approximately $38 million.

Companies are targeting consumers by ethnicity because Internet use is growing more quickly within some ethnic groups than it is across the board, according to Maria Weaver Watson, director of marketing at Radio One.

"[A primary goal is creating] another form of media where an African-American consumer is venturing and spending a lot of time," she says. "There are a lot of articles [at] this moment about the growth of the African-American market online. Radio One sees this as an opportunity to meet the needs of [that demographic]."

Consumers join ethnic social networking Web sites for the same reason they join Facebook groups: they want to interact with other people who have similar interests or backgrounds, explains Watson.

"I don't necessarily know that [those] who go to BlackPlanet.com don't go to MySpace, Facebook, or other [social networking] Web sites," she says, "but I do think it creates an opportunity for people who have a connection through ethnicity. They find some level of connection because of that."

However, providing a communications platform can be the easy part. The ultimate key to success on ethnicity-specific Web sites is providing Internet users with interesting, compelling content in a convenient location, says Watson.

"What everyone has found over the years is that successful sites are content-rich and have authentic content that resonates with the consumer, whether it be on the African-American or the Hispanic side," she notes. "When you add a social networking site, it connects people that have like minds and interests so they can find each other. We hope to stay true to that by providing rich content that can be evaluated by what's happening in the marketplace."

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