Yahoo's Mayer: Engagement Is Our 'Number One' Business Challenge

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yahooYahoo's Q4 2012 earnings offered more of the same of the still fairly young Marissa Mayer reign: some gains on search (not counting the costs of acquiring traffic) and weak display results. Read the release.

The CEO took the opportunity to reiterate her objectives, particularly the promise to spend more on building up existing -- and perhaps purchasing outside -- ad tech and programmatic tools.

But for the most part, ad tech matters were not discussed at length and little light was shed on how Mayer is shaping Yahoo properties like the Right Media exchange and the data analytics offering Genome. Her main focus continues to be on stressing "new and revamped" products, which is what Mayer was known for concentrating on in her former executive role at Google.

"Our three key challenges are: increasing usage, growing our international prescence and appealing to a broader demographic of users – in that order," Mayer said. "Achieving the growth that we aspire to will take multiple years."

Among the highlights of Yahoo's Q4 results, search grew by 14% over Q4 2011, while display, the portal's former area of dominance, which has since been ceded to Google and Facebook, slid 5%.

"With new products come increased usage, engagement which drives advertisers' attention, and in turn, ad spend and revenue," Mayer said. "The December relaunches of Yahoo Mail and Flickr were the start of these efforts."

Focusing on advertising, Mayer said there were "great opportunities" in "the big four" Yahoo business categories: search, display, mobile and video." The key to the changes here will be greater content personalization to improve the lackluster engagement stats. Instead, Yahoo is going to pay closer attention to what's working, namely areas like video, which she claimed is so over-booked, advertisers pay six months in advance for placement.

Two analysts did press Mayer for her thoughts on the importance of programmatic to Yahoo, but her responses were long on sunniness, short on detail. "As to the programmatic opportunities, we're excited," she said. "Ad technology is one of the key investments we're making. We'll have more to offer. It's an area where you'll see us deliver in the future."

Towards the end of the call, JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth tried once more. Saying that RTB looks like it could be 20 percent of display spending in 2013, according to some estimates, he asked "How are you thinking about Yahoo's position with Right Media and how do you strengthen that position?"

In response, Mayer said, "We are very happy with Right Media and the amount of inventory flowing through there and it delivers a lot of value. We've continued our investment there, as we noted in September. And there will be continued investment there in 2013."

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