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Yahoo's Message: We're in the Search Fight

Yahoo and the Olympics
SUNNYVALE, Calif. -- Yahoo today made its boldest statements to date to clear up what it said are misconceptions that it's winding down its search efforts in light of its deal with Microsoft.

"We've neglected talking about it and some of that is our own fault and some of it was due to regulatory reasons," said Shashi Seth, Yahoo's (NASDAQ: YHOO) new senior vice president of search, said at an event here at the Web pioneer's headquarters. Seth, who headed monetization efforts at Google's YouTube and was also a product lead for search at Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), has been at Yahoo three weeks.

"I think we can pull this off in a big way and blow away the competition," said Seth. "I've worked at Google and other companies and there are some really sharp minds here and great technology. We need to build the next generation of search and I think we can do it."

Yahoo has lost a few points of search share the last several quarters, primarily to Microsoft's Bing, though it still holds the No. 2 spot.

The deal with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), which still awaits regulatory approval, would see Yahoo ceding the back-end operations including the many datacenters needed to power its search engine, to the software giant. The companies would share ad revenue from search results, with Yahoo taking over the sales operations.

But Yahoo emphasized it's committed to continuing research and development in search and to bringing out new services. While both Bing and Yahoo search will run off Microsoft's back end, each company will control its own front-end user experience.

Part of that effort is focused on retrieving the most relevant search results, including a selection of images and videos and social media content from Twitter. Larry Cornett, vice president of Yahoo's search consumer products division, previewed a results page that looked more like the front page of a newspaper than the classic 10 blue links of results, with different several entry points for users to explore.

Cornett, who was at Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) "during the dark years" before Steve Jobs returned as CEO, recalled that there was a lot of talk back then that Apple should just cede the business and shut down.

"Even though the company had fantastic talent, we could do no right," Cornett said. "It takes a few wins ... look at Apple now and it can do no wrong. We will get to that point where it will shift and people will love what (we're) doing."

Yahoo execs conceded the company doesn't always toot its own horn enough or aggressively market its accomplishments. For example, the company integrated social media feeds to its e-mail service more than a year ago, but Google got much bigger coverage yesterday for announcing similar moves with Gmail.

"Sometimes we act like a multi-billion company with an inferiority complex," David Pann, vice president of Yahoo's U.S. Search Advertising Business, told InternetNews.com.

But he said that's changing under CEO Carol Bartz.

"We're being a lot more aggressive with our message and it's working. Some of the biggest advertisers and retailers are saying to us, 'We want to spend more money with you' and ad agencies are saying, 'We want to integrate with your content.'"

Searching the Olympics

Yahoo said it's planning to continue to target vertical segments to tailor results in specific areas. To that end, today the company launched a new mobile site for the Winter Olympics and added other pages to its general search engine focused on the athletes, schedules and other aspects of the event.

"The blended search with multimedia is something all the big players are doing," Greg Sterling, an analyst with Search Engine Land, told InternetNews.com.

"They need to do some very different things to make headway and they are probably in a better position than Google to take chances. I don't agree when they say it's early in Web search, but the market is evolving, and it is early in mobile and a new generation of devices are coming and TVs that need search services. If Yahoo can win those, there could be some kind of halo effect back to their core product."

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.