Following Jerry Yang’s Exit, Where Is Yahoo’s Local Strategy Headed?

Share this:

The big news this week, of course, was Yahoo! and the departure of founder Jerry Yang. This comes shortly after the naming of a new CEO, Scott Thompson. Investors panned this choice and activist investor Daniel Loeb and his hedge fund Third Point are agitating for major turnover on the board of director. So we could have further changes at Yahoo! in the next few weeks. And what I’d like to know is this: What is Yahoo’s street fight strategy?

Part of what investors have complained about is Yahoo has failed to implement a strong or comprehensive mobile strategy, a critical component of any hyperlocal push. Further, Yahoo has not outlined a defined hyperlocal strategy. This may or may not have been a bad thing, considering the general lack of profitability evinced by hyperlocal efforts from big media to date. So what are some of the things that Yahoo could do to nail mocal (mobile-local)?

To be clear, Yahoo has some pretty interesting hyperlocal boots on the ground that people may or may not know about. Logged into the free WiFi at your local Starbucks? You know the splash page that pops up and the great content offerings that jump out. Usually there’s a free song to download, a free book to read on premises and other goodies. The Starbucks Digital Network content portal is powered by Yahoo. That’s right. And those content portals are actually a remarkably good place to pursue a local strategy.

First, they know the exact location of the user and can generate (or purchase) highly relevant local content. Second, they can actually give relevant numbers to advertisers of number of people logging on and time spent on the portal not just based on zip code, but based on neighborhood. You can’t get targeting any better than that. Of course, Yahoo lacks a sales force to pursue this tack but that’s where they may pursue creative partnerships — with the hyperlocal news folks like Patch, who have feet on the ground. Or, perhaps partner with the print local weeklies that are struggling to regain their footing. Or even the dominant hyperlocal indie sites.

This is a stab in the dark and the numbers might not pencil out. But I bet there’s something there. Safeway does a low-tech version of this by allowing a third-party to sell ads to local businesses placed on the back of cash register receipts. So it’s not like Yahoo and Starbucks would be total greenfield. For Starbucks, too, the impetus to find new ways to generate revenue is everpresent.

Another area where Yahoo could very quickly ramp up its local efforts is sports. Yahoo Sports remains pretty much the crown jewel of their portal empire. It’s hugely popular and the default location for millions of sports fanatics. So what if Yahoo teamed up with Narrative Science to automatically generate sports stories for high school teams based on what’s already published in the papers? Or with coaches to allow them to do a one-click push of stats from their rec league game into a sports story that can actually be mailed to parents and grandparents? Of course, someone else is already doing exactly this. But for Yahoo, adding this feature could significantly up stickiness. And it would have the secondary benefit of also gleaning highly valuable information associating a user with a precise locality — providing the underpinning for a successful hyperlocal news effort or strengthening the ability to offer hyperlocal social commerce and couponing.

The point of all this being, Yahoo may be a lot closer to a viable mocal strategy than people are giving it credit for and the incoming CEO may actually have a great canvas to prove the naysayers wrong and recast the portal as a more nimble player that squarely straddles the old and the new Internet with equal facility.

Alex Salkever’s Personal Fight column appears every Friday on Street Fight.