After nearly a year of testing, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) is unveiling its overhauled home page, which it is describing as the “most radical” change to Yahoo.com since the company started 15 years ago. The last redesign was in 2006, and Yahoo which has struggled to define its place on the web hopes the new look—in the words of CEO Carol Bartz—will give it some “mojo.” The bottom line is that for all of Yahoo.com’s traffic, there’s a strong perception that it’s not cutting edge a la Facebook or Twitter. Users in the U.S. will have a chance to opt in to the new design Tuesday afternoon; people in the U.K. and India will have access later this week. The redesign puts a heavy emphasis on customization.
Users, for instance, will be able to add “apps” to a list of “My Favorites” on the home page, in order to get quick access to services from both Yahoo and also from third-party sites (Click on image to the left for several screenshots). In a conference call with reporters Monday, Yahoo SVP Tapan Bhat said that the company’s goal was to make Yahoo.com the “center” for people’s online lives. He pointed to previous versions of the site, which often included a long list of various Yahoo properties, where apps will now be featured instead, saying they were “about Yahoo, not about the user.” Of course, there’s a revenue opportunity for Yahoo here too: The company has claimed that ad impressions on the home page increased between 10 percent and 20 percent due to the inclusion of ads with apps.
One big question, however, remains unanswered: How the new page will impact user engagement. The launch was reportedly delayed, because testing showed that people tended to spend less time on Yahoo.com in its new form. Bhat repeatedly declined to offer details about that, only saying that “when you design a page that users like, they tend to get more engaged.” The site will also be going up against some new competition from fellow portal MSN, which is set to launch its own new look this fall. AOL (NYSE: TWX) did its own redesign last October. Yahoo continues to beat both in traffic both in the U.S. and worldwide.
The company also said that beginning this August it would start bringing in some elements of the redesign to its search pages. A left hand column will be added to search results, so that users will be able to access their apps directly from there.
—Apps: By far, the addition of apps is the biggest change to the home page. Yahoo has a selection of apps that users will be able to choose from but users will also be able to create their own, simply by searching for the name of a site. The app will then be pulled together automatically based on RSS feeds and other elements from te web, Bhat said.
The apps also create new opportunities for more relevant ads, since ads can now be targeted based on the “context of things you care about,” Bhat said. Asked whether it was problematic that Yahoo might be running ads adjacent to third-party content, Bhat said that Yahoo had already been doing so on sites like its customized My Yahoo portal.
—News: Users will also be able to customize the news headlines that they see, including selecting hyperlocal news to put there. Yahoo also plans to introduce a tool that will allow people to slide a lever to determine the mix of content—be it fun or more serious—they want to see on the page. Bhat pointed to new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz as inspiration saying that “one of her big things is why do I keep on seeing Britney (Spears) in the today module.”
—Search: The search box is now bigger—and a list of frequently searched terms now appears on the upper right of the page. Executives had previously pointed to those changes as evidence that Yahoo was still putting a heavy emphasis on its search business.
—Impact On My Yahoo: Bhat said that My Yahoo was not going away, even though the new home page borrows many of its elements, saying the page meets the needs of users who wanted to “customize everything.”
—Social: Users will now be able to edit their statuses on social networks including MySpace and Facebook directly from the home page.
Ed’s note: For a look at Yahoo’s homepage design over the years, check this CNET photo gallery.
By Joseph Tartakoff