The Real Difference Between Google and Yahoo

3 minute read
Gerry McGovern avatar

Yahoo's customer is the advertiser. Google's customer is you and me. That's why Google has been more successful.

"We have never been a search company," Carol Bartz, Yahoo's chief executive told the New York Times in August 2009. "Search was Yahoo's origin story," stated Danny Sullivan, a search engine expert who has followed the search industry since its early days. "To say Yahoo was never a search engine is like saying Superman wasn't originally from Krypton or that Spider-Man was never bitten by a spider."

I fully agree with Danny Sullivan. Yahoo started off in 1994 as a search directory. Its job was to help people find stuff on the Web and that was its main purpose for many years. Search is certainly what made Yahoo popular. "Yahoo, it's more like a huge library or archive," Jerry Yang told Fortune magazine in 2000.

Carol Bartz saying that Yahoo was never a search company is like a defeated army saying that they never wanted to win the war anyway. In fact, they didn't even think they were fighting a war. So now that Yahoo has lost the war with Google, now that it has grown beyond its original purpose of being a search company, what does it want to be?

According to the New York Times article, "The biggest thing for Yahoo is increasing the number of pages people consume and slapping as many display ads as possible across those pages. "My fortunes are tied to my pages," Ms. Bartz said.

This logic is why Yahoo lost to Google in the first place. At some stage Yahoo began to put the advertiser first. It stopped seeing customers as people it needed to help find what they wanted quickly. It fell into the trap of sticky marketing-keep them on the site as long as possible, show them as many ads as possible.

The Yahoo homepage started off as a straightforward directory of the Web and for many years it stayed like that. However, sometime after 2000 it began to get more and more complicated and advertiser-focused. By 2004, there were 255 links on the Yahoo homepage. It had reached a stage of massive, overbearing clutter and pushiness.

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"It had nothing to do with the user, but what Yahoo wanted the user to do," Yahoo's Tapan Bhat, senior vice president of Integrated Consumer Experiences told the Wall Street Journal in July 2008.

However, Yahoo did try to refocus. By 2006, there were about 170 links on the homepage. By 2007 it was down to about 140, by 2008 about 120 and by 2009 about 100.

This is the age of customer power, customer control, customer dominance. Today, the customer is not king; the customer is dictator. Google, so far, has put the needs of the customer, not the advertiser, first.

Yahoo and Google have the same advertising revenue model. However, Google isn't focused on increasing page views and ad placements but rather on increasing relevance. It is focused on making ads useful.

In reality, Google is not a search engine; it's a time saving device.

About the author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords. He is widely regarded as the worldwide authority on increasing web satisfaction by managing customer tasks.