Yahoo and Google Home Pages

By Eric Goldman

Fascinating contraposition of stories on the Google and Yahoo home pages run by the Washington Post and BusinessWeek, respectively.

From BusinessWeek: Yahoo makes its home page decisions strictly by following user clicks. They capture user clickstreams across their site–a total of 10 terabytes of data every day (the same amount of data as the entire Library of Congress). Yahoo learned to focus on clicks rather than simply focus groups after there was a divergence in what users said and what they did. For example, users said they wanted hard news on the home page and not gossip on Britney Spears–but guess where all the traffic went? The solution: give users the hard news as a comfort factor, but don’t expect anyone to click on it.

As an aside, I personally hate Yahoo’s home page. It is just too cluttered and confusing for me, so I stay away from it as much as possible. On the rare occasions that I end up there, I do a control-F search of the page to find the right link rather than playing the Hocus Focus game of trying to find the link amidst the clutter. Of course, if I don’t know what Yahoo calls a particular link, then I’m SOL.

Now, for a different perspective, the Washington Post’ on Google’s home page: Google’s home page goal is to keep it clean. Google even tracks the number of words on the home page–it once was as high as the mid-50s; yesterday it was 33. So every word needs to count. Despite this, Google retains the “I’m feeling lucky” button, even though it gets <1% of clicks, because it imparts a sense of whimsy. (I’m so conditioned to hitting return for a search that I almost never use the I’m Feeling Lucky button even when it would save me a click; plus, a lot of my searches are now done through the Google toolbar).

Like Yahoo, Google is data-driven about its home page–up to 10 different versions of its pages are being tested at any time. However, placement is not strictly driven by user clicks. To be considered for a home page link, a Google service needs 10M+ users a day and at least 50% of Google users to cycle through it in a week. Any home page changes are vetted by Marissa Mayer, who then seeks approval from Schmidt, Brin and Page. Google is planning a major redesign of its home page, but it will still limit words to about 50.

I think the differing philosophies about the home page reflect some essential differences about the DNA of the respective companies. Yahoo wants to be all things to all people, and this shows in its stuffed-to-the-rafters home page. Google prides itself on technological elegance, which shows in its minimalist home page.

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