Is Yahoo! Headed in the Right Direction?
Maxwell is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.
There has been an interesting trend as of late to gauge the best search engine called the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) vs. Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) War. The rules are simple: Open two windows, one Yahoo and one Google, type in an incomplete sentence, and see what the auto-complete feature reveals. Different players make up different standards for winning and losing. Some win by being the funniest, others by which one correctly chose the players’ thought.
The game is intended to be fun, a time waster to break up the monotony of the day. But it begs the question, “How do these two rate against each other? Are there any other browsers or search engines that can compare, and what are the trends for these companies?
On the horizon, I see a bleak outlook for Yahoo! as Google and Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Bing take the lead based on the usefulness of their products and the strength of leadership from both companies.
What is Happening in the Mobile World
In today’s world, consumers don’t want to be tied to a desktop to answer questions. Indeed, when it comes to driving directions, local restaurants and reviews, etc, these things must be available at a moments notice. This is why, by and large, search engines have gone mobile. The three pioneers, Bing, Google, and Yahoo have all tried to supply the smartphone world with the most efficient and easy-to-use functionality for searching the web.
When it comes to mobile searching, the task is challenging. Small screens, limited touch display devices, handling speech input; these are all things that can make or break customer satisfaction when it comes to a functional search. Consumers can have little patience for irrelevant search results for movie show times or bad directions. What is more, it is now expected that such results also easily feed into displaying reviews and trailers, options for theaters, and the ability to buy tickets immediately.
So how have these companies fared in face of such daunting expectations?
Bing seems to be placing much of its efforts behind the attractiveness of its interface. The search app is tied to the desktop version of and highlights the same image of the day that the user would see if he/she was on a computer. The list of search options such as images, videos, maps, and deals is handy for quick sorting. Searches launched from the video page will yield only video results, and so on.
One of Bing’s biggest successes is the seamless integration of the voice recognition software with the search. In addition, Bing automatically changes to its search page once the user begins typing so the auto-complete function can begin automatically. This effort to allow the user to get where they want to go with as few keystrokes as possible is one of the solid indications of the company’s clear-minded focus on customer service.
Google’s approach seemed more focused on functionality, relying on a more ‘spartan’ approach to emphasize the powerful back end search engine. The basic blue-and-white query bar with the "G" logo is all that the user is greeted with on the app. However, Google magnificently uses the search history so as to minimize keystrokes to find a highly viewed site.
Google also makes it more friendly for the smartphone user by offering an option called “Places”, which integrates local results for news, movies, and shopping. Of course, it also allows the user to access the host of Google services, including Docs, contacts, Blogger, and Google Earth. It's tabbed interface is just as functional as Bing’s though is not as aesthetically appealing.
Then there’s Yahoo.
Yahoo opted to ignore the appeal of Bing's mobile search app as well as the power of Google's. Even though Microsoft powers Yahoo's search results, meaning that many of the results from the two apps are identical, Yahoo seems to have put little effort into differentiation, a telling sign for the future of the company.
Rather than showing the user’s search history, the home page for the app displays trending topics, a strangely useless option to be greeted with in my opinion. It also includes news results and displays embedded maps, if the user needs directions, it will force him/her to an external app such as Google Maps or Verizon’s VZ Navigator. The idea that the company is literally advertising its rival also shows what direction its headed.
What it Means
There is a key element which must be discussed before predictions are made and that is the concept of ‘core searches’. Core searches are those where the user has an intent to interact with the search result, for example, links to business websites, information gathering, etc. This does not include a search for images or content for display only, such as maps or stock information.
Holding this in mind, it is no wonder as to why Google still has a commanding lead, as readers are aware of phrases and slang terminology that has crept into everyday speech such as, “Google us”.
Even the simple action of translating the name into a verb makes marketing and advertising easier. Microsoft capitalized on this when it launched its “Bing and decide” campaign. This is a definite factor in Bing’s achieving a market share of 14.54% last year.
Yahoo! Search has not increased visibility, and sadly, it is unlikely to. It will still maintain its own user interface, but will eventually feature "Powered by Bing" branding. Likewise, all Yahoo! Search partners are expected to be transitioned by later this year.
What impact will this have on Yahoo! and Microsoft? I predict that Yahoo will continue a downward trajectory. The company still has revenue generators such as its recent launch of Yahoo! Contributor Network. However, I see Microsoft continuing its drive upward based on the past performance of Bing as well as Microsoft’s superior strategy.
More will be written on Yahoo’s need for leadership and the current transition it is undergoing. However, looking at this single area of mobile search strategy, it is clear that Microsoft and Google are headed in the right direction.
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