Yahoo Wants You Off Their Homepage

Joshua Porter

July 12th, 2006

I got a very interesting message when I went to search on the Yahoo homepage the other day. Here is what I saw:

Yahoo Homepage

Yahoo seems to be suggesting that instead of going to the homepage to search I should bypass it and search from my browser instead.

My guess is that this is an attempt to take market share away from Google, whose engine is the default search option on Firefox, the browser I was using. If Yahoo can get Firefox users to switch from Google to their search engine, they’ll see a growth in advertising revenue. As you have probably heard, advertising revenue from search is a huge market, coveted by all and solely responsible for Google’s tremendous growth. A while ago I wrote about how Microsoft and Google understand the Power of the Default. Add Yahoo to that list.

But I wonder: Are there any downsides to this? Does it hurt Yahoo at all if I don’t go to the homepage when searching? From a purely functional standpoint, I don’t think it does. People will still get the value out of the search function that they got before, assuming the results are relevant. Branding-wise, however, there might be downsides since Yahoo relies on services other than search (unlike Google). Each time someone goes to the Yahoo homepage to search they see what are essentially advertisements for services. Does this advertising have a positive effect over the long term? Will someone be more likely to return to Yahoo after having seen one of those services, even if they were there for a different purpose?

In design there is always a tension between discovery and task. Designers want to help people complete their task, but also want to introduce new things along the way. How else would people find out about new, exciting things if it weren’t for some vehicle of discovery?

One option would be to extend what we at UIE call seducible moments to the search results page. Seducible moments are moments when users can be persuaded into taking some new or additional action. Usually this moment comes right after they have completed their task.

However, nearly all of the content on Google and Yahoo’s results pages is either search results or 3rd party advertising. What if they took advantage of the seducible moments on those pages and advertised their additional services there?

Imagine if, somewhere on the search results page, Yahoo’s designers presented this message: “Looking for secure, web-based email? Try Yahoo Mail today. It’s free.” Now, it might be that users ignore everything on the results page and the seducible moment happens when the user reaches the site the results suggest. If that’s the case, however, it is too late for Yahoo to do much of anything.

If that’s not the case and people are open to discovery on the search results page as they seem to be with 3rd party advertising (testing could verify this), then Yahoo has room to explore. Indeed, Yahoo would need to explore in this space if a significant number of people come from browser search. When users search by way of the browser the results page becomes the only place that Yahoo can show off their services. In an increasingly search-driven world where people can search from anywhere, the results page becomes even more important than before.

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