Note from Andrew: I recently wrote an essay on the virtues of using Google Trends to analyze the underlying traction of products instead of focusing on PR. I mentioned offhand that it would be interesting to break Yahoo’s properties apart to see how they are doing independently of each other, and Matt (bio at the end) sent me some great notes on the topic – you can also follow him on Twitter at @mattgierl. It’s worth noting the caveats that Google Trends data is directional, probably doesn’t do good job on mobile, etc., but nevertheless I found the findings thought-provoking.
How is Yahoo Really Doing?
To say that there has been a bit of buzz around Yahoo as of late would be a drastic understatement.
From Marissa Mayer’s appointment to CEO, to their re-launch of photo-sharing app Flickr, their $1.1B acquisition of Tumblr, and most recently, their bizarre (ingenius?) 30-logos-in-30-days PR campaign: purple-mania has reached a fever pitch. Investors seem to have bought into the hype as well, as Yahoo’s stock price has nearly doubled from its 52-week low to over $28 per share as of the time of this writing.
But I, for one, am not ready to count myself as one of the believers. Let me tell you one of many reasons why.
In Andrew’s post last week, he made the case for why navigational query volume is a better proxy for evaluating a company’s traction in the market, as opposed to something like unique monthly visits (which can be inflated a variety of ways which Andrew discusses). Fortunately for us all, the Google Trends tool makes this ridiculously easy to do.
In the post, Andrew takes us through the charts for some of the current and former high-flyers in the tech space including AirBnb, Pinterest, Twitter and, last but not least, Yahoo. Here’s what he found:
Surprisingly, Yahoo experienced pretty strong growth until mid-2009, where we see volume stall a bit. Further still, there has been a noticeable decline from the end of 2012 to today. While these are some interesting trends overall, it leaves a lot unsaid in terms of how the various Yahoo properties (e.g. Yahoo News, Yahoo Sports, etc.) may be affecting their overall navigational query volume, so I did some digging and found that it’s actually a bit of a mixed bag.
Several Yahoo properties are doing well on navigational queries: News and Sports, in particular.
Let’s start with Yahoo News.
While there aren’t a ton of positives with respect to navigational query growth for Yahoo’s properties, there have been a couple bright spots. To begin, we see that Yahoo News has shown steady growth over the last 10 years. Whoever said journalism was dead?
Yahoo Sports has enjoyed a positive trend overall as well, interspersed with cyclical spikes corresponding with the starts of the NFL/NCAAFB and MLB seasons. It’s tough to say definitively, but this is likely a result of the explosion of fantasy sports in the U.S. and abroad, which grew 60% from 2007-2011 and has shown no signs of slowing.
On the other hand, several Yahoo properties are flat. As I alluded to earlier, it’s definitely not all roses for Yahoo though.
Here, in one of the more interesting of all the Yahoo property charts, Yahoo Finance, we see a modest growth trend obscured by a stalagmite-like formation which occurred during the economic collapse of 2008-2009. The bump in ad revenues was a small silver lining for them in the midst of their stock plummeting to half of its former value, I’m sure.
Yahoo Weather appears to be falling out of favor as well, as volume has declined to roughly half of what it was at its high at the start of 2011.
Several Yahoo properties are hitting slumps though, even in important categories like Mail, Travel, and Shopping.
Turning now to one of the most critical properties in the Yahoo ecosystem, Yahoo mail, we see an even bleaker story still. After experiencing a strong period of growth from the Since mid-2010, search queries for Yahoo Mail have steadily declined, coinciding directly with the rise in volume that Gmail has enjoyed over the same time period.
Yahoo Travel hasn’t fared much better. Volume has continued to decline steadily since 2007, likely due to the growth of more sophisticated travel aggregators like Orbitz, Kayak, Hotwire, Hipmunk and even Bing Travel over the past 5 years.
And finally, in perhaps the most defining chart of all, Yahoo Shopping continues its decade-long decline in navigational query volume. But let’s be honest, when is the last time you’ve intentionally navigated to Yahoo Shopping for your consumer product needs? Yeah, I can’t remember either. And I bet you can guess one of the major culprits who appears to be syphoning off this volume…
Now, I understand that navigational query volume is not everything and that there is much more to the Yahoo story than what I’ve managed to include here, but nonetheless, this doesn’t instill much confidence in their ability to reverse the trend and drive growth moving forward. When it comes down to it, they simply don’t have a single rockstar product to speak of that can serve as the archetype for success in the post-Web 2.0 era.
And while some may be quick to suggest that Tumblr fills this role, I think it’s still too soon to call. Hopefully for Yahoo’s sake, that hint of stagnation in Tumblr’s chart since 2013 is merely a red herring.
So to recap, we have:
- Two of Yahoo’s properties, News and Sports, showing moderate to strong growth in the last decade
- Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Weather in steady decline since 2009
- Three of Yahoo’s key businesses in Yahoo Shopping, Mail, and Travel getting their lunches handed to them by the competition
- And, finally, a brand new $1.1B question mark
So while I must admit that I rather enjoy a gimmicky PR campaign every now and then, the negatives significantly outweigh the positives here. As a result, until Yahoo can show us some real, tangible traction with a core product, I will continue to remain a doubter.
About the author: Matt Gierl is a an MBA student at UCLA Anderson, digital marketer, and sporadic blogger over at Medium. As a former consultant at the data science firm, dunnhumby, Matt has helped some of the world’s most iconic brands achieve new growth by better understanding the behaviors of their most loyal customers. Matt currently resides in Los Angeles where he is an MBA student at UCLA Anderson. If you happen to be in the area, I hear he is willing to grab coffee and chat about marketing, tech, startups and the like, so get at him at @mattgierl.
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