Even With GoogleClick, Yahoo's Got Right Stuff

It's easy to see Yahoo's Right Media buy, following as it does on GoogleClick, as a variation on Project Panama: a smart idea, but also an example of Yahoo simply following Google's lead. But things are a lot more complicated than they seem--which is why I wouldn't rule out Yahoo from the Google vs. Yahoo fight just yet.

For starters, this isn't a case of Yahoo following Google's lead at all. If anything, the opposite is the case. Yahoo is the true leader in publisher advertising; it's Google who's trying to muscle in on Yahoo's turf--or, as Terry Semel politely put things to The New York Times, Google's entrance into the publisher space "validate[s] Yahoo's strategy for the last few years."

In buying Right Media, Yahoo isn't playing catch-up; it's flexing its muscles to tell Google to back off.

Indeed, once you scratch the surface of Google/Yahoo, it's not hard to see Yahoo's lead in the publisher space. Yahoo is the largest publisher on the Web; it's ranked by Alexa as the most popular Web destination in the world; and while Google's DoubleClick purchase is pending SEC approval, Yahoo already owns 20% of Right Media. In other words, Yahoo is the leader--and Google is following.

Of course, Google has been following Yahoo for a while. Yahoo began organizing the Web's information back in '94; Google arrived on the scene in '97. Yahoo was running pay-per-click ads when Google still publicly scorned them. And through its pending acquisition of DoubleClick, it looks as if Google is looking to take over Yahoo's terrain once again.

But don't expect Yahoo to go down easily. As it's shown by moving to buy Right Media, Yahoo clearly understands where its strengths lie--and it won't give up on its leadership without a real fight.

There are also Google's own strengths and weaknesses to consider. To start with, as I mentioned above, Yahoo already owns 20% of Right Media--while Google owns none of DoubleClick yet, and it's always possible that the SEC will derail the plan.

And more fundamentally, there's a difference in the range of media at stake. In stealing Yahoo's thunder in search, Google has shown that it's capable of out-maneuvering Yahoo in monetizing a single technology.

But as we've all learned through following GoogTube, there's a difference between understanding how to manipulate a technology, and understanding how to navigate the very complicated waters of publisher content.

And when it comes to managing publisher content, Yahoo is still the leader--and Google's the newbie. And it's Yahoo's extensive experience, to Google's freshness, that makes me suspect that Yahoo might deliver a real run for Google's money.

And while I'm on the topic of Google vs. Yahoo, I'll add that I wouldn't rule out Yahoo in search, either. Panama isn't nearly working at full speed yet; once it is, the entire Google vs. Yahoo battle--on the publisher and search sides--will really get interesting.

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