Yesterday may have been Yahoo’s best day in the last five years. Marissa Mayer will be CEO, and Yahoo couldn’t have found a better person to guide it. The impact of this move was so surprising that many people -- including myself -- at first thought it was a Google April Fool’s Day prank in July. But fortunately, it wasn’t.
I’m old enough to be an original user of Yahoo, dating back to 1994, and have followed its entire path closely since that time. Make no mistake about it - Yahoo is one of the original Internet media companies, and it has a legacy audience dating back to that period. It also has a legacy in search, and in finding things on the Internet. Though it is no longer a novel idea, the concept of creating a directory to categorize and classify Internet documents was unique and highly useful back in 1994. As Yahoo grew parallel to the increasing amount of information on the Web, its strategists realized that a search engine was needed. Inktomi and various other crawlers backfilled Yahoo’s results in the 1990’s, as did Google. Yes, for those who don’t remember or never knew, Google actually provided search results for Yahoo in its earliest days, and even offered itself for sale to Yahoo for a paltry $100 million at one point.
As Google continued to grow, Yahoo subsequently got deeper into the search business, and acquired what seemed to be every major search property in sight. It acquired Altavista, Inktomi and Overture, among others.
With Mayer on board, Yahoo now has a leader who truly understands their core business. I am not suggesting that the solution for Yahoo is a search or social one, but rather that Mayer at least understands Yshoo’s business and legacy in a different way from her predecessors. Her decisions will be made with a solid foundation and vision for creating first class digital experiences.
Like many others in this industry, I have been very critical and disappointed with Yahoo in this column on many different fronts over the last few years (see “Yahoo's Updated ToS: The Fox Eats The Hens, The Eggs And Itself,” and “Bing's Gain Will Be Yahoo's Loss, While Actual Google Share Varies By Vertical.”) The company basically lost sight of its identity, and had strategists who did not understand its core value -- especially to the marketers and audience who provided its primary revenue streams. Yahoo also enabled a bloodless coup by allowing Bing to provide search results, effectively giving up on the search business. Since that time, I have had little need to make Yahoo a primary consideration for search strategy, as it was mostly mirroring Bing results.
But with Mayer as CEO, Yahoo won’t be ignored any longer. Even if it doesn’t take on search again, it has the opportunity to innovate and redefine digital media in a significant way. I haven’t been this excited about Yahoo for many years, which is way too long. This is going to be a fun company to watch.