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How Yahoo is getting personal with its users in the battle with Google

How Yahoo is getting personal with its users in the battle with Google

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

How do you best manage the experiences offered by a global giant which attracts 600 million visitors a day… and growing?

And with the ever evolving advancement of search leader Google how can you best build brand loyalty amongst users that in turn is going to prove a more appealing proposition to advertisers?

On top of this, as smartphones and other mobile devices are revolutionsing the nature of internet usage amongst consumers around the world, how is Yahoo addressing the challenge?

Who has the answers to questions like these and all things Yahoo? Jeff Russakow (pictured), that’s who.

As executive vice president of Customer Advocacy, Russakow has global responsibility for all of Yahoo!'s customer support functions, including audience, small business, ad operations, and search network quality.

It’s no mean task. But where to begin? For Russakow, it’s about looking at the basics

“We think about the advertiser and the publisher and the people who are advertising to them.  And they are both important customer bases,” he revealed.

“I think for the user there's a number of things.  First, starting with the immediate and the tactical is to refresh the product portfolio and put a greater level of excitement and innovation and freshness back into the existing products, to migrate to broader platforms [such as]  iPad, iPhone, mobile devices. You know, 600 million users is nice. 1.5 billion handsets out there is even nicer.”

His solution has been to look at how to build Yahoo’s offering so it integrates into the lifestyle demands of its users - home improvement, fitness, etc.

It’s all about the “Yahoo experience” as opposed to just the Yahoo set of products with the aim of making the portal the “broadest media company online.”

Beyond the product and experience, there’s a need to maintain established markets together with emerging markets.

While North America and Western Europe are very highly penetrated markets for the Internet, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia hold the potential for 500 million new users over the next five years.

Within this new environment, Yahoo has created the relatively new role of Customer Advocacy. The model is based at getting to the source of potential problems, addressing complaints before they actually arise, rather then simply addressing them.

For Russakow, that translates as improving the quality of the product in the first place to drive the volumes down and then focusing a lot more on engagement.

“The customer experience is the value proposition.  And so if you don't have someone on the executive team worrying about the customer experience as their own, as their focus, you run the danger of the silos never fully treating it,” he explained.

“If it's a product quality issue; if it's a datacenter IT operations issue; if it's something about the way the product's designed, that's the root cause of the problem.  So let me have people working with the product engineers directly in the product design and the testing to really make sure that the product is designed for a customer experience in the first place.  That takes out a huge amount of the problem in the first place.”

Once those products are on the homepage, it’s “about brass tacks” to drive usage: “Get the volume and the mechanics down and then really think about basically discovery and enjoyment.”

One of the biggest developments in Search in recent years was the Yahoo Microsoft partnership of 2009. Set up as direct challenge to the Search dominance of Google, Russakow believes are two very distinct roles for the partners to play.

“What the partnership gives us is take the back end engine, which is more of a technology platform. Let Microsoft, which is a technology platform company drive that, and spend a billion and a billion and a half kind of dollars it takes to be in that war,” he explained.

“Let us take our resources and refocus it on what Yahoo's good at, which is that novel customer experience, as well as [being] the best sales force in media, online media as well.

He continued, “So let us be the sales force for Yahoo and Microsoft.  We'll focus on the front end experience, let Microsoft, the platform company, focus on the back.”

Russakow  went on to admit that today, both Microsoft and Yahoo's search tools, to date have not been as good as Google in terms of putting the right self-service tools in the hands of the advertiser to, begin an account, plan a campaign, launch a campaign, target it and get good reporting back on how well the performance is going. But he added that things are set to change.

“I think we have an opportunity here, it's not yet released but, you know, the plan is over the next number of months to release it, to take really the best of Yahoo and Microsoft's ad serving technologies and put them together and then, quite frankly, build from there,” he revealed.

“So on the consumer facing part, I think it's more the experience that's going to be differentiating.  I'm not as worried about differences in the engine.  I think they're small.  On the advertising toolset side, I do think there are some differences in the quality of the self-service tools that is a gap to be narrowed.”

How Google will meet the challenge remains to be seen. However one thing’s for sure. This battle is just the beginning of what will be a long drawn out war.

To see this interview in full on click here.

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