Launched in 1994, Yahoo is one of the old dogs of the tech world.
In 2012, former Googler Marissa Mayer came on as CEO, amid much fanfare and a few photo shoots. Beyond the publicity, she quickly executed several smart strategies that have shaken up Yahoo.
Here's how Mayer taught the company new tricks.1. She finally got a redesign to go through.
As we've reported on before, Yahoo leaders have wanted a redesign since 2009. But it never got done, even as CEOs came and went. Why the holdup? "It tested poorly" in 2009, one source told us.
But Mayer didn't wait any longer. She launched a redesign of Yahoo's homepage, logo, and features like Yahoo mail and Flickr.
The homepage redesign "presents what Yahoo sees as the ‘latest’ internet," wrote one web design critic. "And this part of the site feels like a success. It captures the feeling of a Twitter-like stream of information whilst staying true to the idea of a portal."2. She sought to make Yahoo a regular habit in consumers' lives.
Behavioral science shows us that 40% of the decisions we make throughout a day aren't really decisions — they're habits. Mayer told Bloomberg her goal for Yahoo as a web destination was to make it a habit:
I think that there's a real opportunity to help guide people's daily habits in terms of what content they read. That is something that we are really working on. All of these daily habits — news, sports, games, finance, search, mail, answers, groups — these are all things we have been underinvested in.
For example, Yahoo acquired the news summarization app Summly a year ago. Summly's been morphed into the Yahoo News Digest, a mobile app that sends a summary of top stories your way "to quickly inform you of the news, especially when the tsunami of available news content feels overwhelming." That summary of the news gets delivered to you twice a day — perfect for forming habits.3. She's hired heaps of engineering and editorial talent.
When Mayer started at Yahoo, it had about 40 mobile engineers. It now has almost 400.
Yahoo has also doubled down on editorial talent. Former New York Times tech reporter David Pogue went over late last year, and star broadcast personality Katie Couric signed on to become "global news anchor" of Yahoo in January.
Why all the hires? In November, a recruiter representing Yahoo tried to poach reporters from the tech blog AllThingsD via LinkedIn. AllThingsD promptly shared the message, which reads:
The initiative is a news website, focused on technology, that is extremely social friendly and another way to drive significant traffic back to our platform...We have identified this endeavor as a key anchor of our media strategy and a high growth opportunity for the media organization.4. She acquired an insane amount of companies.
Yahoo has snapped up almost 40 startups since Mayer took over in the summer of 2012. The organizations have been young, with only a handful of them making it past the Series A round of venture capital funding. The biggest buy was Tumblr for a whopping $1.1 billion.
Yahoo does three kinds of acquisitions, Mayer has said: smaller acquisitions for talent, mostly in mobile; strategic acquisitions like Summly, which powers the Yahoo news digest app; and major ones like Tumblr, which allow the brand to reach a new demographic (i.e., hipsters).5. She's gone "mobile first" and meant it.
In the January before Mayer came in, the search company declared that it would go "mobile first." She's made (mostly) good on that claim. In a K-10 report from February, the company reported that 400 million of its 800 million users came on mobile, a figure that more than doubled since October 2012. The revenues from mobile, however, are less impressive.
“Currently, our revenue from mobile is not material, and our competitors have mobile revenue significantly greater than ours,” the K-10 report reads. “If we are unable to develop products for mobile devices that users find engaging and that help us grow our mobile revenue, our competitive position, our financial condition and operating results could be harmed.”6. She's launched new verticals.
At CES, Yahoo announced a bunch of brand extensions. There's Yahoo Magazines, built off of Tumblr. There's Yahoo Tech, one of the new magazines. There's Yahoo Advertising, which unites ads across the Yahoo universe. And there's the Smart TV app, which connects Yahoo content to your television.
Why all the new verticals? As Yahoo Tech editorial director Rafe Needleman tells TechCrunch, the verticals are being launched to deliver specialized news for a general audience.
“People who buy most of the tech in the world are very smart but they are not enmeshed in this world, and they don’t care about staff changes and for the most part they are uninterested in Silicon Valley,” he said in an interview. “They want to know what is the best TV to buy.”7. She's made friends with her competitors.
"Given that we do not have mobile hardware, a mobile OS, a browser, or a social network, how are we going to compete?" Mayer asked on Bloomberg. Since Yahoo doesn't have a strong foothold in any of those areas like Apple, Google, and Facebook do, Mayer says there's "an opportunity for strong partnerships" with those companies.
"We work with Apple and Google in terms of the operating system," she says. "In terms of social network, we have a strong partnership with Facebook. We're able to work with some of these players that have a lot of strength in order to bolster our user experience that we offer on the Yahoo site."
Making your greatest enemies your allies is certainly a clever way to catch up to them.
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