10 Things Yahoo! Search Must do to Become Relevant

Yahoo!'s Downward Trend

Yahoo! killed off their brand universe project, and recently fired 30 people. Rumor has it that about 2,000 more layoffs might be coming soon. Yahoo! shares are nearing $20, trading at $20.78, and giving them a market capitalization of $27.8 billion.

This WSJ article highlights that about half of Yahoo!'s value is in cash and equity stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan. Over the last year Yahoo! lost significant momentum and marketshare in search. They need to outsource search and search ads, fire a bunch of employees, gain search marketshare, or there is going to be a buyout or merger before the year is out.

Pageviews Still do Not Have Much Value

Sidebar: to anyone hyping the value of pageviews and social media, think of how many pageviews Yahoo! has. If you pull out the value of Yahoo!'s large equity stakes in other companies and cash on hand, Amazon and eBay are each worth about 2 to 3 times Yahoo!, and Google is worth about 13x.

10 Key Ideas Yahoo! Needs to Implement Tomorrow (or Sooner)

After seeing the underwhelming launch of Wikia Search, I think Yahoo! should push further in human aided search. Relevancy is based on perception and marketing. Yahoo! needs to do the following if they want to compete in search:

  1. Increase the relevancy of their directory by actually featuring it (the directory looks like a sidebar to a blog that occupies most of dir.yahoo.com), and by becoming more selective with what sites they accept. You can appreciate their bad marketing of the Yahoo! Directory by the fact that the Google Directory (a DMOZ clone) has a higher PageRank.
  2. Yahoo! is testing integrating Del.icio.us data in their search results. Brand Yahoo! search as human edited safe search and find a way to pay end users for their contribution. Payment does not need to be monetary. Take a look at the success of Yahoo! Answers and Del.icio.us and apply those toward search. Google gives Checkout advertisers free ads and a higher ad CTR (which leads to a lower ad cost). Win search marketshare from your users by giving them rebates on your other products as well.
  3. Create a branding and awareness campaign around the new Yahoo! Search. Hire someone to do a fake study proving that Yahoo! Search is more relavant than any of the other players. Make sure Ask or Microsoft is ranked #2 ahead of Google.
  4. Let users comment on search results AND on listings in search results. Controversy surrounding this will lead to more people talking about and evaluating Yahoo! Search for quality.
  5. Launch a new toolbar with a meter like PageRank in it...call it YourRank (or something the emphasizes to the user) that it is their web and what they like. Heavily push that branding message to users locked into Yahoo! email, Yahoo! Stores, and other verticals they interact with.
  6. Create a well branded specialty search for bloggers with innovative features that make it easy to follow the conversation both ways. Also launch creative ideas to buy mindshare with other high authority communities (universities, open source projects, etc.).
  7. Easily allow advertisers to do keyword research on Yahoo! outside of while they are setting up search campaigns. Create a reliable publicly accessible keyword tool which actually markets the Yahoo! Search product.
  8. Give away a lot of useful search market data (like Microsoft recently did with their Ad Intelligence plug-in).
  9. Put the Yahoo! brand on the millions of syndicated domain landing pages they power each day.
  10. Increase the relevancy of their contextual ad product and increase payouts to 100% (buy marketshare) BEFORE Microsoft openly launches their network. Perform case studies with publishers who saw their Yahoo! monetization go up AFTER switching from AdSense (and other inferior networks) to the NEW Yahoo! Publisher Network contextual ads program. Perhaps pay key leading bloggers 150% just to get them using, talking about, and giving feedback on your ads. Buy marketshare...

How Could Yahoo! Become Relevant?

Do you still use Yahoo! Search? What could Yahoo! do to make you want to use them and talk about their search product?

Published: January 20, 2008 by Aaron Wall in yahoo stock market


Igor The Troll
January 20, 2008 - 10:36am

Aaron, ready to do some nasty fancy business?
Let's go see Michael Arrington and see if he will be interested in doing LBO on Yahoo? We get the baby sell of the Brand to Google and pocket the Green Cash part. So LBO & M&A and then heads role and send them back to India!

Sound like a good deal for all of us! You will make a lot of money and can give away eSEObook to all your humble followers for a few years or so..:)

Patrick Altoft
January 20, 2008 - 11:13am

Yahoo has such as small market share in the UK most people don't even know they are a search engine. Nothing can change that, they are just too far behind to ever take a share of the UK market now.

January 20, 2008 - 2:33pm

Well back in 2003 I wasn't very savvy about the web then, that's when someone introduced me to Google.

And since that day I never stopped using it and totally abandoned Yahoo.

Then Gmail came along so I closed my Yahoo account.

Maybe my story has happened half a million times?

I think Yahoo has screwed up and will keep going downhill I mean look what they did with the overture keyword tool.

What would Google do with that tool?

January 20, 2008 - 2:49pm

Aaron - they need you to take over and shake it up with some brutal talk.

I too closed everything I had with Yahoo! dom names, paid email, hosting.....

It wasn't about Google coming along it was about Google being a little more accessible and not forever passing the buck every time there is a minor problem.

I spent about $3000 a year +++++++ with Yahoo at one time (not including a few ppc jobs) and I really, honestly believe nothing is easy with them...

Go Aaron - make a few million they need someone like you to shake them up in the search department and someone from Nordstrom to kick arse in the customer service department - even the janitor would give awesome service.

January 20, 2008 - 7:05pm

It's all about Yahoos mindset. The symptoms and the 'cures' are irrelevant until (if) it can change the way it looks at the world.

I remember watching all the old basket case SEs die off one by one. Yahoo should have died with them. Deceptive SERPS (disguised PPC); pseudo pay for inclusion; a Portal, when portals were all dying; some craven behaviour at an international level when they were strong; oh, and that unbranded Overture tool.

Can their mindset change? Unlikely. Are they going to listen to outsiders? Not until they're in great pain, and I don't think their pain or self-awareness is enough. And there's a critical mass which they're fast approaching where their irrelevance leads to them being even more irrelevant - the reverse of Success leads to Success (and that must be Failure leads to Failure).

It seems to me that you can tell a company's future, years before it displays the symptoms. One other I'm waiting to die is Ebay - PayPal (loathed, but they refuse to change it around); Skype (what's a couple of billion thrown away?); and rising salami-sliced charges on the punters to make up for their laziness.

Oh, and maybe Amazon: useless search engine that used to be a flagship (unless you type in the actual book name perfectly you won't get any useful results); branching out into selling anything and everything; advertising creeping in everywhere (always a bad sign when corporations start using sponsored ads - indicates a desperation for cash, and allows their brand to become tarnished 'cos now they're just another page starting to look like every other commodity page on the web).

Re. their 'search engine' - Your search "a thousand years of nonlinear hstory" did not match any products.

I LOVE Amazon's search engine because it says so much about them. We're too big to need to worry - Oops! Crash.

January 20, 2008 - 7:59pm

There is a population of folks that will not use Google because they feel a strong connection between Google's record keeping and the book 1984. That feeling is not associated with Yahoo.

In all I think that the above post is million dollar advice.

Yahoo still has some life. There are other companies that are just starting in this space and don't have the millions of users that Yahoo has in hand. It's no guarantee, but lets hope that we continue to have strong competition in this space.

January 20, 2008 - 8:44pm

I might have missed a reply or misread your post, but has no one mentioned -

Superior search results?

What gets me most upset with Google's search results is the inclusion of YouTube links, local directory results, etc. - all from other Google products that I don't want to see. Now, I use Google's Custom Search Engine almost exclusively off of my IG page because that's the tool that best provides me with relevant search results. However, CSE isn't a perfect solution either.

Yahoo! should focus on better search results as a core business goal. They can do this by better deciphering a user's search intentions, eliminating spam sites better, removing affiliate links, parked domains, etc.

All this being said, Yahoo! search is all but dead. Don't believe me? When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm going to go yahoo (insert search query here)". You haven't since people started "googling" for search results.

Dave Keffen
January 20, 2008 - 10:57pm

Whilst most of us probably use combinations of personalised search displays, I reckon that the majority of those browsing still use the classic simple Google start page.

This simple minimalist look was what got most of us started with Google in the first place.

Yahoo IMHO could do a lot worse than ditch all the bells and whistles and provide a minimalistic search page for those who don't want a million and one things flashing up in front of them before they start.

If the browsing experience is pleasurable and not confusing then the average user will be more likely to use them. Likewise, if the browsing public use Yahoo more than Google everything else will take care of itself. Marketeers will want to invest again.

I realize this is still a controversial issue.

James Dunn
January 21, 2008 - 1:28am

I love suggestion #3, make a fake study. lol

I believe when Ask did their big marketing push they found that the only thing that really performed well was with their toolbars. Maybe Yahoo should find new ways to get people to download their toolbar or get it packaged with other software. They could also distribute Firefox with Yahoo set as the default like Google does.

As for #10, I'm not sure if a contextual network is such a big deal. PPC marketers seem to agree that the content network is crap compared to search ads. Also I believe Yahoo generally already does have a better CPM than Google (especially with the new Adsense change), they just only accept US traffic and kick people off for no reason. It is also believed that Google pays out ~75% of earnings to publishers, so is it really even that profitable? I doubt the battle of the biggest ad network will be decided by the contextual side.

I think Yahoo (or any search engine) should try to get a foothold on the site search. Google's site search has limited customization options and keeps all the search data private. What about a more open platform that gives webmaster's all their search info and the ability to customize the look and feel? Then you are getting search traffic (as opposed to contextual) from publisher's sites.

January 21, 2008 - 3:55am

The AdSense payout is probably closer to 49% for smaller partners and much higher for leading syndication partners like Ask and AOL.

I think the contextual ad network is a big deal in that it allows they to control more of the ad cycle...that is why Google bought DoubleClick...own branding ads on through to search.

Getting the longer tail sites to shift to Yahoo! and putting the Yahoo! brand on it is a way to get people talking about Yahoo!...I think they need conversation as much as they need relevancy.

I also agree that some cool stuff can be done with site search. They could provide great webmaster data, visualization interfaces, and the best free site search as easy ways to win marketshare. I think the easiest way for them to win site search is to try to bundle it with contextual ads though.

January 21, 2008 - 2:14am

I'm actually a little surprised that yahoo doesn't have a "yourank" toolbar, although, I can already hear the complaints about yahoo mimicking google, and that TBYR (heeh) is useless and 3 months obsolete and can never be used to judge the quality. Also, the parked pages is a great idea as well, and maybe some one from yahoo will stop by and take a look at your suggestions.

January 21, 2008 - 5:46pm


Re: point 6 ("Create a well branded specialty search for bloggers with innovative features that make it easy to follow the conversation both ways.") .... could you expand on what you mean by "make it easy to follow the conversation both ways." ?

January 21, 2008 - 8:03pm

Sure...the links in a post sometimes show where a conversation started, but sometimes near ideas that are not linked at are related. Techmeme and Sphere do this well, and I think some other services do too.

It could be done via a timeline, something like Google trends, etc.

January 22, 2008 - 5:58am

And how long do you think it would take before someone questioned this report? Come on Aaron, where's the value in this proposition;-)

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