Launched in 1994, Yahoo (YHOO) is one of the old dogs of the tech world.
In 2012, former Google (GOOG) exec Marissa Mayer came on as CEO, amid much fanfare and a few photo shoots. Beyond the publicity, she quickly executed several smart strategies that have shaken up Yahoo.
Here’s how Mayer taught the company new tricks.
1. She finally got a redesign to go through.
As we’ve reported on before, Yahoo leaders have wanted a redesign since 2009. But it never got done, even as CEOs came and went. Why the holdup? “It tested poorly” in 2009, one source told us.
But Mayer didn’t wait any longer. She launched a redesign of Yahoo’s homepage, logo, and features like Yahoo mail and Flickr.
The homepage redesign “presents what Yahoo sees as the ‘latest’ internet,” wrote one web design critic. “And this part of the site feels like a success. It captures the feeling of a Twitter-like stream of information whilst staying true to the idea of a portal.”
2. She sought to make Yahoo a regular habit in consumers’ lives.
Behavioral science shows us that 40% of the decisions we make throughout a day aren’t really decisions — they’re habits. Mayer told Bloomberg her goal for Yahoo as a web destination was to make it a habit:
I think that there’s a real opportunity to help guide people’s daily habits in terms of what content they read. That is something that we are really working on. All of these daily habits — news, sports, games, finance, search, mail, answers, groups — these are all things we have been underinvested in.
For example, Yahoo acquired the news summarization app Summly a year ago. Summly’s been morphed into the Yahoo News Digest, a mobile app that sends a summary of top stories your way “to quickly inform you of the news, especially when the tsunami of available news content feels overwhelming.” That summary of the news gets delivered to you twice a day — perfect for forming habits.
3. She’s hired heaps of engineering and editorial talent.
When Mayer started at Yahoo, it had about 40 mobile engineers. It now has almost 400.
Yahoo has also doubled down on editorial talent. Former New York Times tech reporter David Pogue went over late last year, and star broadcast personality Katie Couric signed on to become “global news anchor” of Yahoo in January.
Why all the hires? In November, a recruiter representing Yahoo tried to poach reporters from the tech blog AllThingsD via LinkedIn. AllThingsD promptly shared the message, which reads:
The initiative is a news website, focused on technology, that is extremely social friendly and another way to drive significant traffic back to our platform…We have identified this endeavor as a key anchor of our media strategy and a high growth opportunity for the media organization.
4. She acquired an insane amount of companies.
Yahoo has snapped up almost 40 startups since Mayer took over in the summer of 2012. The organizations have been young, with only a handful of them making it past the Series A round of venture capital funding. The biggest buy was Tumblr for a whopping $1.1 billion.
Yahoo does three kinds of acquisitions, Mayer has said: smaller acquisitions for talent, mostly in mobile; strategic acquisitions like Summly, which powers the Yahoo news digest app; and major ones like Tumblr, which allow the brand to reach a new demographic (i.e., hipsters).