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Yahoo! refreshed
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With Pulse and other innovations, Yahoo! wants to get the eyeballs back. Will it succeed?

Yahoo! spent over $100 million on a brand campaign starting in September 2009 (it broke in India in early October 2009) after Carol Bartz took over as the CEO of the company from co-founder Jerry Yang. The fight for mindshare in the digital space had turned intense and this was Yahoo!’s move aimed at fortifying its brand.
Now, the second push has begun. Yahoo! wants to get the eyeballs back by introducing personally relevant web experiences for consumers with its new product, Yahoo! Pulse. Bartz has also created the customer advocacy cell that helps the website in connecting with the users. In June this year, Yahoo! announced the availability of Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Messenger apps as well as a Yahoo! search widget for Android. Next, it’s coming up with faster and richer Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! news sites for iPhone and iPad (leveraging HTML5 technology) soon. That sure is a lot.

According to comScore, Inc’s June 2010 data, Google sites ranked as the number one property in June with 179 million visitors, followed by Yahoo! sites with 170 million, Microsoft sites with 161 million, and Facebook with 142 million visitors. With 500 million users, Facebook has got everyone hooked to it. Clearly, social networking is the name of the game now. Yahoo! claims its focus now is on giving users a one-stop destination to access all their social network accounts.

Jeff RussakowHow does it work: Yahoo! to Facebook, Facebook to Yahoo!? Yahoo! Executive Vice-president (customer advocacy) Jeff Russakow says: “User profiles have been renamed Yahoo! Pulse. Now users can successfully share and retrieve all Facebook updates and news feeds on their Yahoo! Mail inbox through a central dashboard. Users can not only view their Facebook wall but they also can connect and communicate with their peers without having to log onto their respective Facebook accounts. Simultaneously, users can also access their Yahoo! Mail content, messenger, Flickr and Twitter. They can engage with their preferred online games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars. They can also view the updates on their mobile devices.” For example, Russakow says, “If one wants to upload an album, he just needs to upload it on Yahoo!, and automatically it will be published in his other social accounts.” Also, with Pulse, Yahoo! has extended to provide a privacy system which will control the flow of content breach.

Another new feature at the website is the customer advocacy cell. “How to make the search seamless and local, and this comes from customer advocacy. There is a team that anticipates what the customer is thinking. This helps the users in finding how easy it is to discover the features that Yahoo! has. If the customer is confused, we explain the problems. If the customer is gone, the cell tries to get him back. It’s not about discovering the engagement but addressing what the user needs on Yahoo!. It’s more pro-active,” says Russakow.

Going hyper-local
Yahoo! tracks 600 million people today. Twelve per cent of total time spent online is on the Yahoo! home page, and one out of 3 people in India logs on to Yahoo!; 75 per cent of the audience comes to Yahoo! and surf news, entertainment and cricket, says Russakow. From here, Yahoo! wants to grow further. It does not want to miss out on the local visitors (from non-metros). Thus, it has localised its content. “People are looking for a company that is providing local and hyper-local content. At Yahoo! India, one can search for restaurants, theatres, activities or events such as what’s going on in a particular weekend and so on. People now seek specific information about where they live, the eating joints, travel spots, hanging out points and so on,” says Russakow.

In the upgraded age, every site keeps busy in coming up with a new app, game or talking point. For instance, world’s leading internet firm, Google, is constantly innovating; so is social networking site Facebook. Google has upgraded its display search, image search and it has an index of more than ten billion images. It has introduced a new design for Google Images where the thumbnail previews on the results page are larger now. It provides a user with up to 1,000 images on a single scrollable page. It has added contextually relevant, left-hand navigation to the page. This new side panel highlights the most relevant search tools and refinements for a query. “We’ve been testing these changes with users over the past few months, and what we’re launching reflects the feedback that we have received. We want to ensure that the Google you use today is better than the one you used yesterday, and these latest changes open up many possibilities for future features and enhancements,” says the Google India spokesperson.

Russakow says that online users’ behaviour is changing which is more fragmented now. And Yahoo! is building on this. “For instance, these days one has so many accounts online (dating sites, photo-sharing sites, social networking sites). This leads to confusion. We have seen people finding it difficult to remember that which is the site they have kept their family photos in. We are updating this idea to offer everything from one experience,” says he.

Research showed that 80 per cent users want email to be more efficient. Many of them said it takes too long to get through their inboxes. Microsoft has tried to address this recently with its biggest innovation in Hotmail. In the new Hotmail, Microsoft has attempted three things to make email more efficient: Help users manage the clutter in the inbox, save time on everyday tasks, and integrate social networks within the inbox. The sweep function will help users block email from a sender forever. Other email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo! and others) will also get displayed on the Hotmail home page. Bing, the new search engine, has been integrated into Hotmail. Special capacity has been created for sharing images.

Analysts say that any change which visually appeals and also provides more information is always welcome — as many as 44 million Indians use email and 25 million browse the internet every day. On the internet space, once a user shifts his/her focus from a particular website, would he go back to the same site again? KPMG Executive Director Nitin Khanapurkar says: “Usually once a user moves on from a particular website, it is highly unlikely that he would go back unless the original site is the home page or the frequently-used page of the user.” Yahoo! has realised the need to provide better appeal to users with social networking opportunities, he adds.

Focused target
According to Russakow, at Yahoo! the advertiser gets a chance to know what the interest area of the visitor is. Here, he says,Yahoo! scores high over rivals as the advertisers can track their target customers easily. Consider this: The advertisers can upload pictorial ads that are customised to a particular user’s interest. For instance, on Facebook, it’s more about getting social. ‘I know four of your friends, but I don’t know what you’re like.’ But on Yahoo!, the advertiser can zero in on the right customer. “Yahoo! informs the advertiser what is on the mind of the customers. It’s about leveraging the concept of relevant ads; not good ads or paid ads,” says he.

Will it help Yahoo! get people visit the website? An industry analyst, who doesn’t want to be quoted, says: “People go by default to Google to search on anything. Similarly, for social networking, Facebook is the one-stop shop. Thus, Yahoo! has to do that one thing to stand apart which will make people say that ‘I’ll come to Yahoo! now’. Now people are not spending as much time as they used to on Google (a lot of people have moved on from Gmail and G-talk). They have moved on to Facebook. You have to keep updating to create stickiness around your website.”

Creating the buzz of innovation around a website is the trick.
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