What Is Yahoo REALLY Trying To Do With All These New Features?

blake irving

Yahoo is in a tough spot as it looks to kickstart growth.

It’s already got a huge worldwide audience, so grabbing more users isn’t an easy option.

Instead, says product chief Blake Irving, Yahoo has to improve engagement with the users who do visit the site, getting them to spend more time where they’ll see more ads.

Irving told us, “I care about the metrics Comscore cares about,” particularly pageviews. He said time spent at the site is hard to measure, as users may have multiple apps and browser windows open and may not be fully engaged with the site for that entire time. Instead, Yahoo looks at things like the number of links being shared.

That’s the thinking behind new social features like the “facebar,” which lets you see which Yahoo News stories your Facebook friends are recommending. According to Irving, users are reading twice as many articles on average since the feature rolled out in September.

Irving also said that earning more money from advertisers is key, but he’s not particularly focused on CPM (cost per 1,000 clicks) or other traditional ad models. Rather, he looks at new ad formats, like the interactive ads that will be part of Yahoo’s iPad reader, Livestand, as a way to serve brands more effectively without forcing them to pay by the click.

CPM has been the standard way of pricing online ads for more than 15 years, but Irving thinks it’s done a bad job of serving brands’ needs. Even things like full-page rollover ads don’t work — users see them once for a few seconds, then they disappear. 

But with fully interactive ads, the idea is that users will actually WANT to spend time with them, sort of like the way Superbowl viewers look forward to the ads now.

Again, it’s all about engagement.

Today’s announcements won’t be enough on their own, but if Yahoo keeps focusing on better design and more social features, it might have a fighting chance to steal some attention back from Facebook and all the other sites that have made Yahoo look old.

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