Yahoo may be one of the Internet’s most beleaguered companies, but Yahoo.com, its primary landing page, remains one of the Web’s most trafficked sites. It had 119 million monthly visitors in January, up 9 percent from a year earlier, according to ComScore (SCOR). Now, Yahoo! (YHOO) Chief Executive Marissa Mayer is giving her company’s crown jewel a radical polish.
The revamped Yahoo.com, which goes live on Wednesday morning, represents Mayer’s boldest attempt yet to remake and update the Web giant she took over last July. Most visibly, the redesign draws on a key element of Facebook (FB) and Twitter, introducing a “news feed” of live, endlessly scrollable content, which includes news stories, videos, and messages from advertisers. Users who sign in with both their Yahoo and Facebook credentials will see news stories tailored to their particular interests and indications of which articles their friends liked. “We think it’s the right time to bring a more modern paradigm to Yahoo,” Mayer said in an interview. “Overall it was important to me that the page be dynamic, that it feel very fresh, and that it be very intuitive, and that it really tries to embody beautiful design.”
The overhaul, which has a clean look and dramatic highlights in purple (the company’s official color), was led in part by Jackie Goldberg, Yahoo’s design director and a former creative director at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ). Mayer says she met with the team once a week over the past few months.
The new Yahoo.com—“We are trying to get away from calling it the home page,” Mayer says—also offers additional opportunities for Yahoo users to personalize the experience. Users can zap certain topics to ensure they no longer appear on the page, and can toggle the news feed to highlight particular subjects. The old Yahoo.com, which will now fade into the dustbin of Web history (though the similar MyYahoo service remains), blended together news stories from sources like the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, and Yahoo’s own news staff, within subject areas like lifestyle, entertainment, and health. Now all those subject areas will be mashed together in the Yahoo feed and users will have a more personalized experience—and, Mayer hopes, a more relevant one that persuades them to spend more time on the site.
The redesign also gives Yahoo new opportunities to host advertisements on its most profitable real estate. In addition to the primary display ads on the right and left side of the page, starting today advertisers will be able to place branded messages into the user’s news feed.
Yahoo is using a Facebook service called Facebook Connect to import data such as user “likes” and preferences from the social network. The companies have been working together since the end of 2009, with Yahoo users able to access information from their Facebook accounts. Now the two companies appear to be getting closer together. “A lot of the strengths of Facebook are available to Yahoo users,” Mayer said last week at a Goldman Sachs (GS) investor conference in San Francisco. “That’s something we want to build upon. We have a real commitment to bringing valuable content to our users.”
Asked whether she might add posts from Twitter to the Yahoo news feed as well, Mayer didn’t rule it out, saying she now envisions the Yahoo experience changing several times a year. “Overall it’s about a cadence, about staying fresh and constantly revisiting the design,” she says. “People’s expectations of design have really risen. I think there should be multiple updates per year to any core page or application like this. It’s not the case that you can let something like this sit. While this is the first of these updates in 2013, there would be more to come.”
Yahoo has recently topped analysts’ modest expectations for revenue growth. Last month, it posted fourth-quarter sales of $1.22 billion. The stock is up 34 percent since Mayer took over, with investors buoyed by her credibility, her new management team, and recent updates to Yahoo Mail and the Flickr photo-sharing service. Mayer was a longtime Google (GOOG) executive and one of its first employees.
But she still has a lot of work to do to give users reasons to keep coming back to Yahoo—particularly as the experience begins to look similar to that of the popular social networks. Mayer says she wants Yahoo “to be a place where you can come every day or multiple times a day to see new and exciting things. We are attempting to make the news feed a daily habit.”