No one doubts that Yahoo is one of the web's most popular portals. However, unlike its major rivals MSN and AOL, Yahoo has no "browser advantage" to drive traffic to its web site, a weakness that the new "Yahoo Essentials" program for Internet Explorer aims to correct.
By browser advantage, I mean the fact that because so many people use Internet Explorer or AOL's own software, Microsoft and AOL Time Warner have the ability to drive millions to their online properties. In contrast, Yahoo lacks any natural advantage.
Traditionally, Yahoo has gained users through its brand recognition. In the same way that word of mouth now drives people to Google, so too did Yahoo gain users, in the past. Yahoo still gains users this way, but it also has advertising as another method to bring them in. Now, the company is eyeing Internet Explorer as a new traffic generator.
Searchwise, the new Yahoo Essentials tool changes Internet Explorer's behavior so that searches conducted within the address bar resolve to Yahoo, rather than through MSN Search. Additionally, the Internet Explorer search button is also changed to query Yahoo.
The idea of jumping into the browser to get users isn't new. Google's toolbar, though it doesn't change any of IE's settings, still provides IE users with easy access to the search engine (and if you haven't gotten it, do so. It's an outstanding tool). AltaVista and Lycos also released IE enhancements, in the past.
Even Yahoo had a "Companion" tool that added a search box to IE, similar to how the Google Toolbar works. However, Yahoo has upped the ante by going beyond simply adding on to Internet Explorer in favor of modifying it.
Meanwhile, Yahoo and MSN squabbled among themselves last month over who had the largest audience. Yahoo cited figures from NetRatings to back its claim, while MSN used those from Jupiter Media Metrix.
To complicate matters, NetRatings has now acquired Jupiter Media Metrix, which means the favorite game of citing figures from the company that shows you best will now be harder to play, for web operators such as Yahoo and MSN.
Finally, as if having Yahoo go after its users was not enough, a recent change to the MSN site caused those not using Internet Explorer to get an error message saying they needed to get a better browser. Internet Explorer was the suggested option. After an outcry, Microsoft finally removed the block.
Microsoft drawn into new browser war
News.com, Oct. 26, 2001
Long analysis of the Yahoo move and the Yahoo-MSN rivalry.
Yahoo makes desktop power play
News.com, Oct. 23, 2001
Long look at what Yahoo Essentials does and the audience figure dispute between Yahoo and MSN.
Yahoo Takes it to the Desktop
SiliconValley.internet.com, Oct. 23, 2001
More about Yahoo Essentials, and how it will be promoted on Compaq computers, through a new deal.
NetRatings to Buy Jupiter Media Metrix, eRatings.com
InternetNews.com, Oct. 25, 2001
More details about the NetRatings purchase of Jupiter Media Metrix.
David Slays a Weak Goliath
Iconocast, Oct. 30, 2001
Good analysis of the web measurement market, in the wake of the NetRatings-Jupiter Media Metrix deal.
Yahoo, MSN Spar Over Traffic Figures
SiliconValley.internet.com, Oct. 12, 2001
We're the biggest, says Yahoo. No, we're the biggest, counters MSN. A look at the dueling audience figures. Yahoo claims its 210 million unique visitors worldwide in September -- as measured by NetRatings -- makes it the largest global web property. MSN says it had 270 million unique visitors according to former NetRatings-rival Jupiter Media Metrix.
Yahoo, MSN Battle Over Traffic Figures
NewsFactor Network, Oct. 12, 2001
Another story on the audience dispute. Note the analyst comment that the time a user spends on the site is more important than the site's audience figures. That's wrong. The statistics, any of them, mean nothing on their own. So what if a portal has someone on their site for an average of an hour per month? If their competitor only keeps visitors for 30 minutes per month but earns more per visitor, then the time means nothing. Or if a web site has millions more visitors than its rivals but fails to earn much from them, it's not going to stay in business -- as anyone watching the dotcom fallout over the past year understands well.
After an Online Ruckus, Microsoft Opens MSN Site to All
New York Times, Oct. 29, 2001
Details about how some of those not using Internet Explorer were blocked from the MSN site.
Help! They're Taking Over My Computer
ClickZ, Oct. 26, 2001
So I finally install Netscape 6.1, then try to listen to a CD in my computer. Suddenly WinAmp has taken over and continually tries to connect to the Internet, though I'm offline. What's going on? And there's new options in my Start Menu that I need to remove, plus new bookmarks riddled through my Favorites. Pamela Parker had a similar experience with software that does things you never expected or asked for.