What Should Yahoo! Do?

Poor Yahoo The company finds itself in the unenviable position of being punished for meeting the expectations it set in the investor community — largely because the company has made a habit of zooming past even its most optimistic projections. But the investor reaction — however overblown — along with the company’s admission the growth of search seems to be slowing, has got me thinking.

If I were running Yahoo (or Google or MSN, for that matter), what would I do to build for the future? Although he didn’t go into detail, Yahoo CEO Terry Semel spoke of a “product renaissance” on the company’s conference call with investors Wednesday, so some of these ideas may already be in the works. Still, here goes…

Blogs/Newsreaders

When Walt Mossberg (or, in this case, his vacation surrogate) writes about something in The Wall Street Journal’s Personal Technology column, it’s beginning to hit the mainstream. It’s time for Yahoo to buy Bloglines or develop a real newsreader of its own.

What about the recent RSS reader beta test in My Yahoo, you ask? Quite frankly, it stinks. The beauty of the feed readers I’ve used is you only have to read new or updated entries. Once you’ve read them, they disappear from your queue — until and unless you want them back again. Yahoo’s beta test doesn’t do that.

Laying out feed entries in the middle of the Web page, as My Yahoo does by default, is also silly. The whole point of a feed aggregator is to easily manage hundreds of incoming information streams. Yahoo’s interface doesn’t currently allow that.

No other portal has done it any better, of course. The time is ripe to make a strategic acquisition, before someone else does. Buying Bloglines, which recently redesigned, would also help jumpstart development of a dedicated blogging feature for users, something that would fit in well with GeoCities. What is blogging, after all, if not personal home-page building? Google already has this functionality with Blogger.

Unified Mobile Desktop

In recent weeks, I’ve seen an upsurge in online discussions about “a place for my stuff.” It’s partly fueled by the unprecedented online storage capacity of Google’s Gmail (and its imitators). A company called SimDesk Technologies has sparked chatter (and press coverage) along the same lines.

I’m one of those people who use Web-based email for all of my personal correspondence (full disclosure: I use Yahoo Mail Plus). Now that storage concerns (for paid subscribers) have been virtually eliminated, there’s no real drawback. It’s ubiquitous; I can access it via POP if necessary; and all the features are there: spam and virus scanning; the ability to use my own domain name; even disposable addresses.

Take Web-based email a few steps further and you’ve got something SimDesk-like. Yahoo has its Briefcase application for file storage, but it must be significantly improved to be really useable. Add integrated word processing, a spreadsheet program, and PC desktop back-up to Yahoo’s existing photo sharing, instant messaging, and email applications, and you start to get something really sticky.

Wireless

SimDesk even has a wireless application, SimMobile, users can utilize to access their documents from anywhere in the world. I can access my Yahoo email from my wireless phone (though it’s quite a laborious process). Yahoo needs to make this easier — perhaps through a dedicated application — and provide access to my calendar, my contacts, and all of those aforementioned applications.

Yahoo’s mobile operation has long been fairly undeveloped, but the company seems to be giving the area renewed attention. For example, it’s added the ability to wirelessly post camera-phone photos into Yahoo Photos. We’re not at the point where wireless services like these are a necessity, but any major portal must work to retain its brand equity as media migrate across platforms.

Local Search

Local search is a hot area, both for Yahoo and for its subsidiary, Overture. There’s no question the company is dedicating resources to this space. May I suggest more attention be paid to educating users on how to search locally — even informing them that they can search locally?

After all, a February study from OneStat.com found 33 percent of Web searchers only use two search terms. Twenty-six percent use three words; and 19 percent use only one, the analytics firm found. If I wanted to search near my office, I’d have to use two search terms just to establish my locality: “New York.” How much would you bet most folks don’t yet search this way? Sure, a recent study by the Kelsey Group and BizRate.com finds that local commercial searches — people seeking merchants “near my home or work” — represent 25.1 percent of all searches by online buyers. But do people really know how to get the appropriate results?

An advertising campaign — even one just involving house ads, at first — is definitely worth putting together. If I were Yahoo, I’d try to get a critical mass of advertisers on board with Local Match, then work on getting those advertisers some serious traffic.

At least, all that would be my view of the ideal “product renaissance” for Yahoo. What’s yours?

Meet Pamela at ClickZ’s upcoming AdForum. Join us for Search Engine Strategies in August.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign from July 7 through close of business July 14.

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