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How Not To End Up Like Yahoo!

Yahoo LogoTimes are definitely not good at Yahoo!. Not only has the company fired its CEO, the latest in a long string of failed leaders, but the company is barely bothering to look for a replacement.

Basically, times are tough for the company. Though Yahoo! still has some of the most popular properties on the Web, it’s having a hard time turning a buck on them and, worst of all, it’s watching as the Web seems to be moving on from them. Many wonder how long the former giant can remain relevant, especially considering it already farms out its search service to Microsoft.

This is a big part of why the company is now reported to be up for sale and many are wondering if it will even be able to fetch a reasonable price.

But while Yahoo!’s flame out is impressive and one of the largest, if not the biggest, in the Web’s history. Smaller ones like it happen every day.

How can you prevent your site from dying a painful death like Yahoo’s!? The answer may lie in looking at what happened to the company and where it seems to have gone wrong.

Yahoo!’s Background

Yahoo! started in 1994 as a directory of websites. The site grew rapidly in its early years, getting one million hits even before the domain was purchased. The site and company quickly expanded, largely through acquisitions, and tacked on a large number of services including email, messenger, groups and even a hosting platform through Geocities. Yahoo! also formed partnerships with eBay and Google, which included marketing and search respectively.

Yahoo! was first hurt by the dot com bubble in the early 2000s, its stock lost well over 90% of its value. Still, Yahoo! continued to acquire other companies and services, including updates to its email platform and its own search technology. In 2005, Yahoo! even bought the popular photo-sharing site Flickr.

Slowly though, cracks began to show in Yahoo!’s armor. Not only was it startting to lag behind competitors in terms of traffic, currently 4th according to Alexa, but it lacked key offerings, such as robust social networking platform. Most importantly though, despite high traffic levels, its services were being overshadowed by competitors, most prominently Google and Facebook’s offerings.

Worst of all, Yahoo! was now the sum of so many parts that many felt the company lacked direction. That, in turn, played a key role in the current merry-go-round of CEOs and probable sale.

Learning the Lessons of Yahoo!

The problem with the Yahoo! disaster is that it was, and still is, very much a slow-motion disaster. With some exceptions, there were no truly bad decisions, just a series of questionable ones. There was no central “turning point” in the Yahoo! story, just a slow decline.

Still, there are a lot of lessons to be gleaned from the Yahoo! story and they apply to sites of all sizes. From upstarts with only a few visitors to potential tech giants.

  1. Find and Hold Your Direction: One of the most common criticisms of Yahoo! is that it has lost its sense of direction, because it no longer does any one thing particularly well. As such, it’s important to establish early what your site is about and stick to that direction, anything you add to it has to attach to that directly.
  2. Keep Your Voice: Andrew recently talked about how over use of guest blogging can ruin your site by taking away your voice and he’s absolutely right. Yahoo! made so many acquisitions and branched out in so many ways it had no voice of its own. You can’t let that happen to your site.
  3. Stay Tuned to the Wind: Though you can’t chase every fad that rolls around, understand that the Web is a foundation built on sand and it will shift. Yahoo! did not adequately adapt to the social media/news Web we live in today and is paying for it. Find a way to shift your focus to keep it relevant no matter which way the sands of the Web blow.

All in all, the most important thing to remember is that, on the Web, sometimes less is more. The more products Yahoo! added, often to compete with other services, the less attention it gave each one and the less well they did.

You only have so many hours in the day and only so much of that time can be dedicated to your site. It’s much better to do one or two things very well than to do 10 things mediocrely or 20 things poorly.

You owe it to yourself and to your readers to give everyone the best experience possible and you can’t do that by spreading your resources (time, money, etc.) too thinly.

If you don’t have the ability and motivation to do something very well, you shouldn’t do it at all. It really is that simple.

Bottom Line

In the end, Yahoo!’s story is one trying to be all things to all people by following the trends that had already come and gone. It was too much, too late with too little direction.

You don’t need to be a multi-billion dollar company to learn a lesson from that. It’s the type of story that can happen to any site, any time, any place. All one has to do is lose sight of why they got started, what their audience wants and try to grow in too many directions without a central purpose.

Though you might not have billions at stake should you falter, obviously all of the time and energy you’ve spent on your site is of some value to you. As such, you should protect it.

Part of that protection is knowing when to say no and sticking to that decision. If something is bad for you and your site you shouldn’t do it just because you feel pressured to. Your site has to be yours and, once you let outside forces dictate your decisions (rather than merely guide them), that’s when everything starts to go downhill and, soon, you find yourself with a large, tangled and directionless mess.

Much like Yahoo!.

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Comments

  1. Michael T. Nickerson says: 9/8/2011

    Keep your voice- this is not an immediate concern as I am still so new to blogging, but with guest blogging suggested as a means of building a blog and driving traffic, it also seems to be a contradiction to keeping your voice. I suppose some bloggers are also good editors, but I have no interest in doing that. Guest blogging just seems like a quick way to loose focus.

    Reply

  2. Michael T. Nickerson says: 9/8/2011

    Keep your voice- this is not an immediate concern as I am still so new to blogging, but with guest blogging suggested as a means of building a blog and driving traffic, it also seems to be a contradiction to keeping your voice. I suppose some bloggers are also good editors, but I have no interest in doing that. Guest blogging just seems like a quick way to loose focus.

    Reply

  3. Michael T. Nickerson says: 9/8/2011

    Keep your voice- this is not an immediate concern as I am still so new to blogging, but with guest blogging suggested as a means of building a blog and driving traffic, it also seems to be a contradiction to keeping your voice. I suppose some bloggers are also good editors, but I have no interest in doing that. Guest blogging just seems like a quick way to loose focus.

    Reply

  4. Michael T. Nickerson says: 9/8/2011

    Keep your voice- this is not an immediate concern as I am still so new to blogging, but with guest blogging suggested as a means of building a blog and driving traffic, it also seems to be a contradiction to keeping your voice. I suppose some bloggers are also good editors, but I have no interest in doing that. Guest blogging just seems like a quick way to loose focus.

    Reply

  5. Michael T. Nickerson says: 9/8/2011

    Keep your voice- this is not an immediate concern as I am still so new to blogging, but with guest blogging suggested as a means of building a blog and driving traffic, it also seems to be a contradiction to keeping your voice. I suppose some bloggers are also good editors, but I have no interest in doing that. Guest blogging just seems like a quick way to loose focus.

    Reply

  6. Mae Loraine Jacobs says: 9/10/2011

    Perhaps we can also add to always keep our ethics in check. You cannot have an angry ex-CEO getting on your back. :) Seriously, though, I’m not too sure about the sale, as no one has really confirmed it yet. But whatever the decision is, I hope Yahoo stays for the long haul. It’s actually too good to just let go that easily.

    Reply

  7. Amelia Stevenson says: 9/10/2011

    Yahoo’s lack of innovation caused its downfall.  I guess their expansion is based on acquisitions.  They never really come up with anything themselves.

    CEOs lack foresight and are content with the present.

    Reply

  8. Anonymous says: 9/11/2011

    Reply

  9. vijay lin says: 9/13/2011

    I oftern use Yahoo, just as I often wear shoes from http://www.tods-house.com.

    Reply