Is There a Future for Yahoo in Japan?

The past few weeks I’ve given several presentations to overseas clients visiting Japan about the current digital landscape here. While digging in and producing some updated market stats, I had a chance to investigate Yahoo Japan in particular and what it’s been up to this past year. What it’s focusing on, how it’s trying to grow, and if any of these initiatives are actually paying off for them.

When I first moved to Japan, just over 6 years ago, Yahoo was at its peak. It was a household name in Japan, had around 65 percent share of the search market, served around 20 billion page views per day, and essentially had no real competition.

Fast forward 6 years and a lot has changed.

In the search world, Google is now king of search here, and a slew of other international engines have come in to take share, through the likes of Baidu, Naver, and others. With display, we’ve seen an onslaught of vertical portal sites the likes of @cosme, Cookpad, and an ever increasing introduction of ad networks and exchanges such as Glam, RightMedia, and others.

All of this has presented a serious threat to the Yahoo Japan dominance in this market. Take a look at some of these figures pulled from comScore comparing 2012 versus 2011 trends across their various portal categories:

  • Homepage unique visitors down 5.5 percent and average minutes per visit down 19.7 percent.
  • Gyao (Yahoo’s video offering) down almost 11 percent in unique visitors.
  • Yahoo Music down 14 percent, Yahoo! Travel down 15 percent, Personals down 3 percent, and Gourmet and Shopping both down over 60 percent in unique visitors!

There are some bright spots though:

  • Yahoo Answers up 22 percent in unique visitors.
  • Shopping up over 21 percent, Auctions inched upwards to 3.5 percent and Yahoo Games surged 56 percent, the biggest year-over-year growth across its entire portfolio of products.

To give Yahoo Japan some credit, let’s explore some recent initiatives it has tried over the past 6 months and try to decipher what they represent.

1. Tie-up With Cookpad (June 2012)
Cookpad is the biggest recipe site in Japan, the first of its kind in this market, which had an IPO 3 years ago. The deal between Yahoo and Cookpad will have Cookpad powering the Yahoo Japan Recipe category, which currently draws over 5 million users per month. This is an example of Yahoo making a smart partnership deal in a growing category with a hot partner, Cookpad.

2. Release of Yahoo Browser for Android (May 2012)
Yahoo launched a new web browser for Android. The browser offers an innovative menu system that appears when the user touches either side of the screen making it easier for single hand operation, which is critical for train commuters. You can see an example on this blog post. To date, Google has been at the forefront of mobile innovation, but with this example, Yahoo is trying to take some forward steps.

3. Introduction of Facebook Comments (April 2012)

4. Integration of Twitter Trending Keywords (March 2012)
In another integration move, Yahoo started offering the top three trending keywords from Twitter to be fed into the top page, just under the prominent news box. They also show the top 20 trending keywords from Twitter on the right side of its real-time search result, in a move to show its user base that it is becoming more “socially-led.”

5. Online Storage Service Tops 1 Million Users (January 2012)
In January, Yahoo Box topped 1 million users, only just 3 months after it launched the service. All Yahoo Japan account users get 5GB for free, while premium account holders can use up to 50GB for free, to use for images, documents, music files, videos, or anything. Getting into the cloud space is a smart move for Yahoo, and again shows the company being able to react to a growing trend and mobilize to capture the opportunity.

Most of these core initiatives from Yahoo all revolve around mobile, social, and the cloud, three high-growth strategic areas that it will need to focus on in order to regain their strength in Japan.

Yahoo cannot be ignored when thinking on how you’re going to reach Japanese users online. While it has dipped a bit in popularity, coupled with greater competition and changing market dynamics, Yahoo is making strides. And the face of Yahoo in 5 years could be very different face from what we are all so used to.

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