Three intertwined stories appeared today about Yahoo. The first from Dow Jones Newswires picks up on a Thomas Weisel report about the company, following a meeting between analysts and CEO Carol Bartz. Ironically the report (as described) is highly positive but it sent shares down because it suggests that a Microsoft-Yahoo deal is not going to happen:
“We believe she is focused on building Yahoo for the long term and is narrowing her sights on improving the product before anything else,” the analysts said, adding they were bullish on her goals. “A mantra that has been missing at Yahoo for far too long – build great products and consumers will come, bringing advertising dollars with them.”
While that may be a positive development for most companies, for Yahoo it signaled that the company isn’t just focused on a takeover, which had been driving shares up in recent months.
Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer has repeatedly indicated he’s still interested in some sort of a deal.
Another Yahoo item today, appearing in AdAge, pertains to mobile and Bartz’s promotion of mobile to an area of greater focus and coordination with other groups within Yahoo:
We hear that under Jerry and former mobile boss Marco Boerries, the mobile unit worked more like an isolated startup. Now, under Carol and new mobile boss David Ko, the mobile team is working more closely with product teams as mobile becomes a stronger focal area for Yahoo.
Mobile is a key to Yahoo’s future and success over the long term. Bartz appears to recognize this and the move to have mobile more closely work with other units at Yahoo is smart. However this coordinated approach is part of a larger strategy to bring many of the teams at Yahoo closer together for greater efficiency across the organization. According to PaidContent’s reporting on the Weisel analyst discussion:
[Weisel analyst Christa] Quarles said she likes that there will be a shift away from having product silos (each each product—- Finance, News, Sports, Entertainment, etc.—has had its own dedicated legal, finance and customer-service teams). In the new, more corporate structure, many of these positions will oversee a number of different products; it is aimed at cutting costs and boosting efficiency and innovation.
Apparently Bartz told Weisel’s Quarles that Yahoo “has tested 141 different versions of the homepage in search of one that will get users to stick around for longer.” This was compared in an email to me to the comment made by erstwhile Google designer Douglas Bowman about Google testing “41 gradations between the competing blues to see which ones consumers might prefer.”
In one view of the world this is ridiculous. But it’s also called multivariate testing, which presents users with many different versions or permutations of a possible page, checkout sequence or site. It works and is justified because it measures actual consumer reactions and behavior rather than relying upon internal “group think” or speculation.
One of the things that Carol Bartz said was wrong with Yahoo was its inefficient organizational and management structure (my paraphrase). It seems she’s taking concrete action to address it.