What's Percolating at Yahoo!

 | Feb 20, 2013 | 1:27 PM EST  | Comments
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I'm continuing my week-long trip in San Francisco, having all sorts of meetings with venture capitalists, angel invetors and tech executives.

Yahoo! (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer is no doubt on the top of everyone's minds. Even if their focus on consumer Internet stuff, everyone seems to have an opinion about her, how she's doing and whether Yahoo can succeed long-term. So far, the consensus seems to be that everyone loves her and thinks she made a smart move going to Yahoo from Google (GOOG), as it's really giving her the chance to shine as a leader.

On the question of whether Yahoo can turn itself around, I would say there is less agreement. Most people still seem to have a wait-and-see approach, although they go out of their way to compliment the job Mayer has done so far.

There are some key markers that tech insiders have told me to watch for as the year rolls on. One was announced Wednesday morning with the new Yahoo homepage. Here's the full list:

A new homepage and how it does: Yahoo.com is still ground zero for the company. It's where the traffic comes and mostly jumps off to other sites. Yahoo can turn on the fire hose, directing traffic to other Yahoo-branded sites depending on how it steers the traffic on the homepage. Even though everyone wants to talk about mobile, Yahoo just can't neglect the traffic and profit they're deriving from the webpage. The new page looks good this morning, but the real test will be in the traffic numbers we see in the coming months.

What's going to happen with search? One person I spoke with was actually more bullish about Yahoo's ability to generate more revenue from turning around search, rather than on display. They thought the trends in display ads were just not in Yahoo's favor, and that Marissa's search expertise could really help Yahoo do a lot better in search.

The big decision coming up has to do with what Yahoo will do with the Microsoft (MSFT) Bing search alliance. Will they renew the deal? Will they terminate it and will Yahoo go with Google instead? Will the company go it alone? Will it ask to take over Bing from Microsoft? It's all up for grabs. Each of those options have risks and rewards, and Yahoo will likely offer clarity on them by April.

New versions of key Yahoo properties. Mail and Flickr revamps have gone very well so far. Yahoo is now going to roll through updates of all their other key properties. Watch for something from Finance and Sports next, as they are the next biggies.

The Mail revamp: It's no surprise that this was the first refresh for Yahoo after Marissa took over. It's a critical property for Yahoo, and not enough people pay attention to it. But, while the new Mail app is great, it doesn't really take people back to the Yahoo home webpage where Yahoo generates a lot of advertising revenue. So it will be important to watch Yahoo Mail's traffic over the new few months. If it starts tracking downward, that could signal that a drop in display revenue is soon to follow.

Of course, what's going to happen to with the Asian assets: Marissa has less control over this, but if we see an Alibaba initial public offering and/or monetization of Yahoo's stake in Yahoo Japan, these things could more than make up for whatever goes on in the core business.

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