The Oprah Effect On User Search Behavior

Last week, in honor of the ubiquitous daytime talk show wrapping after 25 years of production, Yahoo released some search stats as the buzz leading up to the final show airing today (Wednesday, May 25, 2011) built up, with searches related to Oprah Winfrey rising 56% in the week prior.

The queen of daytime has long been a powerhouse when it comes to influencing consumers and purchase decisions for nearly any product. From healthy foods to favorite fashions and beauty items, anytime a product or diet recommendation was mentioned on the set of The Oprah Winfrey Show, online searches for those topics often skyrocketed.

The “Oprah Effect” (CNBC video) has been studied by several researchers over the years (including the Obama Presidential campaign in 2008), and many success stories have come out of their products or services being featured on the show.

As evidenced by the Yahoo graph below, the most popular recurring feature in recent years, “Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things” episode was the peak of “Oprah Winfrey” related Yahoo traffic during 2010.


Oprah Search Spikes Over The Years

Oprah’s frequent expert guests such as Dr. Mehmet Oz (as well as financial guru Suze Orman and interior designer Nate Berkus) have also assisted in Oprah’s search influence – and perhaps represent future opportunities for products and brand marketers, as these personalities have also created mini-empires and launched popular shows of their own since first gaining attention on Oprah Winfrey’s platform.

While those disciples of Oprah may be able to reach some of the same demographic, it’s not likely they’ll have quite the same impact as a glowing endorsement from Ms. Winfrey, which has led to users frantically searching for more information on the products she’s featured on her shows.

Here are some of the biggest bumps in user queries and how they’ve impacted search behavior on Yahoo! over the years.


Gadgets & Gizmos

Nearly a year after the Amazon Kindle first launched, CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on October 24, 2008 – when Oprah declared the Kindle her favorite new gadget. The book club maven was sold on the device, and so were her loyal viewers.

  • Related searches on Yahoo! that day: “amazon kindle” (+2800%), “kindle 2″ (+2800%), “amazon kindle e-books” (+2300%)
  • Demographics for “amazon kindle”  on the day of the episode garnered lots of interest from women 35-64

Note: Other tech items that Oprah Winfrey featured on her Favorite Things episodes over the years also spiked in Yahoo searches.

Health & Wellness

When Dr. Oz visited Oprah and showed an audience member how to use a “neti pot”, corresponding searches went up 12,325% for “neti pot” and up 42,480% for “buy neti pot” on Yahoo! that day, as some store shelves were cleared out of the product.

The wizard pulled another popular search stunt when Dr. Oz’s Green Drink, an anti-aging, healthy concoction was tasted by Oprah. Yahoo! searches on “dr oz green drink” spiked 2900% in one day.

According to Yahoo!, the popular cold prevention remedy “Airborne” spiked in popularity following its appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show even though the episode wasn’t about health or wellness. The show was chronicling success stories of inventors and entrepreneurs, and the former teacher who came up with the product idea that made millions appeared on the show; that helped increase awareness of the product itself. In more recent years, of course, there have been lawsuits about Airborne’s branding.

  • Related searches on Yahoo! (September 2004) – “airborne” (+370%), “airborne cold remedy” (+5500%)

Food & Diet

Two distinct tracks of user searches appear here:

First, there are basic food and diet recommendations that would come from trusted people like Dr. Oz, Dr. Christiane Northrup, and Bob Greene.

  • Searches for “steel cut oatmeal” spiked 5,400% on Yahoo! the day Oprah and Dr. Oz sang its praises.

The introduction of Dr. Perricone and his 10 “superfoods” like blueberries or pomegranates, items like chia seeds or flaxseed (Oprah showed how she’d have a snack of yogurt and berries and flaxseed). According to Yahoo, the search term “superfood” definitely got a lot of play in recent years on Oprah.

Secondly, sometimes specific brands and online stores would be mentioned (Garrett’s Popcorn, Frozen Hot Chocolate) and those brand names would then spike on Yahoo!

Other times, specific dishes would also get mentioned whenever Oprah’s BFF Gayle King would do an episode where she’d search the country for the best pizza, best cake, best burger, etc.

Fashion & Beauty

One of the most famous episodes in the last 25 years, occurred when Oprah staged a bra and jeans intervention to educate women around the world about bra fitting and how to find your true bra size.

Searches spiked on Yahoo! that day for the Oprah recommended brands:

  • “freya bras” spiked 49,000%, as well as searches for “felina bras” which spiked 2,036%.

Oprah also put her stamp of approval on Citizens of Humanity Jeans, Joe’s Jeans, Theory Jeans, and AG Jeans, and of course, searches for those brands spiked off the charts as a result.

Bargain fashion lines also gained popularity, as Oprah showed the masses how to dress your best for less. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and designer Vera Wang were among the celebs who appeared on Oprah to promote their low-cost fashion lines.

  • Simply Vera – searches on “simply vera” spiked 300% on Yahoo! after Vera Wang appeared on the show in September 2007.
  • Bitten – Sarah Jessica Parker’s clothing line, which was sold at Steve and Barry’s. In May 2007, this was super-spiky in search on Yahoo!
    • Related searches (daily spikes) on Yahoo!: “bitten by sarah Jessica parker” (+4800%), “bitten clothing line” (+3300%), “steve and barry’s store locations” (+4000%)

The “La Perla warm-up suit” got extra lucky – this one got a special mention because Oprah wore it on her “O” magazine cover after she showed off her toned figure the year she turned 50. Readers and viewers kept writing in to ask about where to get the outfit.

  • Related searches on Yahoo!: “la perla” (+2200%), “la perla warm up suits” (+31,000%), “” (+1300%)

Staples like everyday T-Shirts have had their turn to shine on Oprah, one notable example were the “Adam + Eve” shirts mentioned on an episode about people who made money with simple ideas.

  • Related searches on Yahoo!: “adam + eve” (+130,000%), “” (+170,000%), “adam plus eve” (+15700%)

There really is a guru for almost everything – including Eyebrow shaping – a May 2006 episode featured an expert teaching viewers how to shape their brows. Eliza Petrescu also featured.  An O Magazine article followed up on the “Eyebrow Experiment”.

  • Related searches on Yahoo!: “eyebrow shaping” (+127,000%), “perfect eyebrows” (+22,000%), “eyebrow waxing” (+70,000%), “Anastasia brow kit” (+32,000%), “Anastasia soare” (+30,000%)

Other skincare and beauty items also bounced up in shopping searches:

  • The “Clarisonic” cleansing appliances (retail prices $149-$390) spiked on Yahoo! after being featured on 2007 Favorite Things episode.
  • “Hope in a Jar” was featured on the 2005 Favorite Things list and also in the 2010 edition. “hope in a jar” spiked 73,000% on Yahoo! the first time it was featured, then spiked 9000% on Yahoo! when it was featured again in 2010.

You can see similar effects on Google Trends from 2005 and 2010 for “Hope in a Jar“:

Informational & Educational

In November 2006,  on the Amazing Medical Breakthroughs episode, ”Dunstan Baby Language” was introduced to the audience by a woman from Australia who noticed patterns in how infants make noise to indicate discomfort, hunger, needing to be changed, needing to be burped. According to Yahoo!, searches for ”dunstan baby language” spiked about 60,000% that day.

Will Oprah OWN Search In The Future?

Although much has been made of the Oprah show ending after 25 years, the reality is that the launch of the OWN network and continued publication of Oprah’s “O Magazine” will keep her firmly at the top the Forbes’ list of most influential women for some time to come.

Yet the OWN cable network still has a long way to grow, as it is currently only carried in 80 million homes, and has an average of 150,000 daytime viewers (300,000 in primetime) compared to the 48 million viewers who tuned into the talk show weekly.

According to Oprah Effect by the Numbers, the O Magazine has a circulation of approximately 2 million copies per month, so there are ample opportunities for unique products to still be featured as ‘favorite things’, and the print publication remains a hot buy among brand advertisers. By comparison, puts the average number of unique visitors to at 2.9 million monthly, offering online advertising as another channel to reach the  coveted Oprah fans.

Oprah Winfrey Stock image from Shutterstock, used under license.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Features: General


About The Author: is Director of Audience Development for Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. She is responsible for increasing readership through owned, earned and paid media channels. In addition, she assists in programming sessions at Third Door Media's Search Marketing Expo conference series and manages speaking engagements for editorial staff. Follow her on Twitter @elisabethos.

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  • Brent Raymond

    “Will Oprah OWN Search in the future?”

    So long as people still confuse Opera and Oprah – yes..

    re: techdirt article
    Opera Reads & Responds To Oprah’s Mail | Techdirt

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