Why Yahoo is #1
March 1, 1999
by Glenn McDonald
(IDG) -- Not only is Yahoo the leader in overall traffic, it also has the most loyal user base of any portal site, according to a report issued this week by International Data Corporation and RelevantKnowledge.
The report, entitled "The Power of Portals: Who's Using Them and How," suggests that user loyalty and duration are replacing traffic (or "reach") as the most accurate method of measuring portal effectiveness. Yahoo has the most loyal user base, with 36 percent of its visitors deemed loyal visitors according to the report's metrics. As for duration, loyal Yahoo users stay for an average of 161 minutes per month -- Excite is a close second, with loyal users staying 160 minutes.
The secret to Yahoo's success is simple: simplicity and familiarity. Yahoo was the first among equals when Web search engines and directories began popping up in the wake of the Web browser. It offered an easy-to-use and very intuitive directory structure--a library-type system of broad categories split into multiple, cross-referenced subcategories. Compared with the then-prevalent Boolean search model -- with its relatively complex logic of AND, OR, NOT, and so on -- Yahoo was fast and friendly.
Since then Yahoo has evolved into the powerhouse of portal sites, offering a vast selection of services such as free e-mail, online shopping and auctions, chat, instant messaging, personalized calendar services, and much more. But it has still maintained its basic directory structure of editorially chosen Web sites. By incorporating advanced search technology within the directory itself, Yahoo remains one of the easiest and best ways of finding what you want online.
Enter a term in Yahoo's search box and you'll get a variety of returns. First, Yahoo scans its own directory for relevant categories, then relevant Web sites, and finally, scans the Web as a whole using Inktomi's licensed search technology. Each return -- whether a category or Web page -- is hyperlinked for easy navigation. For example, enter "Academy Awards" and you get six category matches, the first being the one you're most likely to be looking for: Entertainment/Movies and Film/Awards/Academy Awards.
Click to that category page, and you'll get a link to Oscar.Com, the official home page for the awards, plus separate listings for the previous three events and subdirectories for history and contests. Each subdirectory is also directly hyperlinked. So if you want to jump up a level or two to broaden your selection, you can separately click Entertainment, Movies and Film, or Awards.
You'll also get conspicuous links to "shop online," but that's to be expected -- they gotta pay the bills. What Yahoo does better than any of its competitors is to provide an immediately accessible search system that even the newest of newbies can figure out quickly. That said, it's also true that Yahoo only indexes a relatively small portion of the Web and is best used for finding large and established Web sites. (HotBot is a good choice for scanning the most recent online content.)
Around the core axis of its directory and search system, Yahoo has gradually built up a wide array of other online services. Unlike competitors such as Lycos and the Go Network -- which maintain multiple domains for their various offerings -- Yahoo aims (and generally succeeds) at putting everything under one roof. The free e-mail service, de rigeur for portals nowadays, is among the best out there. The new personalized calendar feature is also among the top two or three available, and Yahoo's message boards and chat areas are easily the most populated on the Web.
The relatively new Yahoo Clubs feature lets you set up your own, somewhat limited, Web page -- with built-in message boards, chat, a member-to-member e-mail system, and a member activity log that tracks the comings and goings of your visitors. This is one area where Yahoo falls well short of its more specialized competitors -- Tripod and GeoCities offer many more options, and even direct competitor Excite Communities has a better overall service.
However, as with its Web page directory, Yahoo does an outstanding job of cross-linking all its internal offerings. You need only register once with Yahoo, and you can then use your personal profile to access all the various customized services -- clubs, calendar, chat, classifieds, e-mail, games, message boards, pager, stock portfolios, travel services, and so on.
One final and crucial aspect of Yahoo's success -- it's among the speediest sites on the Web. Considering that it gets more traffic on average than just about any other site, that's pretty remarkable. Like so much else about the site, Yahoo is fast for the simplest of reasons: It invests heavily in its server infrastructure and uses an efficient design model that eschews bandwidth-hogging bells and whistles.
Yahoo's approach to running a supersite is only one of many -- Excite, for instance, relies more heavily on customization, and Netcenter is banking on improved integration with your browser. But Yahoo's emphasis on simplicity and speed has proven to be essential as search engines evolve into all-encompassing portal sites. As more and better services are developed, Yahoo stands the best of chance of incorporating new features quickly and effectively.
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