Google’s “Plusify” feels like Yahoo!’s Searchify initiatives (what can we learn?)

Google is heavily promoting Google+ through all distribution channels it has – from promoting it on its homepage, to integrating it into every product it has – whether it makes sense, or not.

There is a well-known recent precedent for this strategy. Just like Google finds itself outflanked by a company that has a fundamentally different product, so did Yahoo! when faced with the unrelenting rise of Google. The response was similar – unleash the entire network of owned-and-operated sites, and standalone products, to prop up the competing service – Web Search in the case of Yahoo!, Google+ for Google.

Some of the approaches are strikingly similar -

  • Create a ‘universal navigation bar‘ that goes on top of the page at all properties in the network. Use this bar to drive traffic to the service being promoted.
  • Heavily promote the service at high-traffic endpoints – where most users start their journey on the network. At Yahoo!, this was yahoo.com and my.yahoo.com; at Google, it’s google.com. (This promotion is doubly interesting given their well known stance on keeping the homepage light)
  • Tie internal performance goals to improvements in traffic at said service. At Yahoo!, a program called Searchify made it a mandate for all properties to promote Web Search. At Google, apparently the year-end bonus is tied to how well various teams implement Google+ features.
There are some significant differences, however -
  • Even though Yahoo! tried their best, the management never took extreme measures like tying actual compensation to success on integration metrics. Unfortunately, at a large company like Yahoo! or Google, these incentives are often required.
  • Yahoo! never had a cohesive, network-wide user experience redesign to incorporate Web Search. The end result was spotty integration, conflicting metaphors, and confused users.

 
 

The ‘Universal Header’ Strategy
It makes a lot of sense to use a ‘universal header’ to promote a common look-and-feel, and promote fledgling services to boot. This isn’t an easy UI challenge to solve, however. Years later, many Yahoo! properties are still suffering from the side-effects of the unfortunate slapdash integration that started with the Searchify project. Witness Yahoo! Sports today – do you think the big yellow Search box searches Yahoo! Sports content, or the Web? Can you find the search box that lets you search Sports?
Here’s an even worse example. There’s a ‘Web Search’ box, but no way to actually search on Yahoo! News itself:

 

Can Google learn from Yahoo!’s missteps?
Why did this approach fail at Yahoo? Is there a lesson for Google? After all, the parallels are striking – a Web giant with the largest, most engaged audience suddenly finds itself knocked from the perch, by an upstart building a dramatically different service (Directory > Search > Social Networking). The Giant reacts by building its own version of the service, directing its entire network towards this upstart, intent on vanquishing it.
Distribution is key to any successful product launch; but just because you have the channels doesn’t mean you also know how to leverage them well. I truly believe Google is doing a much better job than Yahoo! ever did at integrating Google+ throughout its network effectively. If they can find their way out of the follower’s dilemma, they might have a true chance at succeeding in being a Pepsi to Facebook’s Coca-Cola.
Amit
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