Yahoo gets new look as Internet traffic wars heat up
By Michael Liedtke
By Michael Liedtke
SAN FRANCISCO — Yahoo Inc. can't seem to gain ground on Google Inc. in the Internet's booming search engine market, but it still holds a key advantage over its Silicon Valley rival: No Web site attracts more visitors and commands their attention longer than Yahoo.
Determined to maintain that competitive edge, Yahoo today is unveiling a new look designed to make its Web site even more appealing to its 402 million users worldwide and to provide the company with another selling point as it strives to lure more advertising.
The overhaul marks the first facelift to Yahoo's home page since September 2004.
The revamped page, initially available in the United States and Europe at www.yahoo.com/preview, includes more interactive features that reduce the need to click through to other pages to review the weather, check e-mail, listen to music or monitor local traffic conditions.
Another addition, called "Yahoo Pulse," offers recommendations and insights about cultural trends culled from the community-sharing tools that the company has been developing for the past few years.
Yahoo regards the changes as the most dramatic renovations made to its front page since the site's 1994 debut as a bare-bones directory developed by Stanford University students Jerry Wang and David Filo.
In those early years, Yahoo was one of the first stops for finding just about anything on the Internet. But Yahoo began paying less attention to searches in the late 1990s, and eventually licensed its results from Google, also started by Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
By the time Yahoo began refocusing on searches in 2002, Google had built a commanding lead that has continued to widen.
The gap translated into first-quarter profit of $592 million for Google compared with earnings of $160 million for Yahoo. Investors also are more enamored with Google, which has a market value of $114 billion compared to Yahoo's $44 billion.
Yahoo doesn't intend to become complacent about its leadership in Web traffic.
"The technology exists to create a much better experience for our users," said Taphan Bhat, a Yahoo vice president who oversees the Web site's key pages. "This page was designed around what people want as part of their daily routines."
The new look is long overdue, said Jupiter Research analyst David Card. "The site was getting pretty long in the tooth and looking pretty old fashioned," he said. "Now, it looks clean, crisp and modern."
Even so, Card says, Yahoo's upgrades won't impress younger, cutting-edge Web surfers who are spending an increasing amount of time hanging out at www.MySpace.com. "They didn't really push the envelope very hard."
The most notable changes will let Yahoo users pull down interactive menus giving them snapshots of weather, traffic and movie information as well as providing instant access to the site's e-mail, messaging and music services.
Yahoo must balance its desire to keep pace with the Internet's constantly shifting trends with the recognition that changing things too dramatically might alienate a large number of users comfortable with the status quo.
As a precaution, the new look won't show up as the default page of Yahoo.com for several more months.
"Any time you touch the most visited page on the Internet, it's going to feel like a big change, and we think this is a really big change," Rosensweig said.
Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, the two most-visited Web sites after Yahoo, have tweaked their looks during the past year.
Although Google still provides a page featuring little more than its Internet-leading search engine, it also offers an option that allows users to customize the home page.
In April, Yahoo led the pack with 105.4 million unique U.S. visitors, an 11 percent jump from last year, according to Nielsen/Net- Ratings Inc. MSN ranked second with 92.8 million visitors, a 6 percent rise from last year, followed by Google, whose traffic surged 27 percent during the past year to 92.1 million. AOL's traffic remained flat at 70.4 million. Meanwhile, MySpace's traffic has more than quadrupled during the past year to 38.4 million U.S. visitors.