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For Yahoo of the future, Mayer has mobile in mind

The new CEO envisions a Yahoo where at least half of its engineers are working on mobile technologies.

In her first quarterly earnings call as its CEO, Marissa Mayer offered few clues about what she hopes to do with Yahoo, leaving Wall Street guessing about where she intends to take the company -- outside of one area: mobile.

"Our top priority is a focused, coherent mobile strategy," she said during the course of an hour-long conference call with analysts today following Yahoo's third-quarter earnings report.

For Mayer, whose 100-day anniversary at Yahoo nearly coincided with the earnings call, it was an opportunity to instill investor confidence in a company that has gone through CEOs like tissue paper. 

In her opening remarks, Mayer said that the Yahoo CEO job is "tailor-made" for her, and that the core products at Yahoo are what she focused on during her 13-year career at Google. Talking about her recent hires, Mayer said,  "In Yahoo Fantasy Sports, I would draft this exact group as my dream team." 

While the Q3 earnings numbers weren't anything memorable, they did offer hopeful signs of stabilization as well as a mild upside surprise. And judging from the chummy tone of the questioning during the hour Mayer spent on the phone with analysts, there's still time left in honeymoon that greeted news of her appointment over the summer.

Though Mayer didn't get specific, her vision did include bigger roles for search, mail, and messenger, the home page and, of course, mobile. Yahoo needs more mobile engineers, she said, adding that one-half of the company's technical work force will one day be working on mobile." (It must be a topic that makes her impatient with the status quo given that Yahoo does not have a mobile operating system to challenge the Googles and Apples of the world.) Also, referring to the intersection of mobile and search, Mayer (a search maven who earned her bonafides at Google) predicted that Yahoo would wind up as one of the "few large players in the mobile search space."

But getting there from here is going to take time. In fact, Mayer did a good job setting expectations. Describing the future as "incredibly bright" she offered that the goal was to grow faster than the industry average. In the same breath, however, Mayer cautioned that the transition would take "multiple years."

Yahoo Q3: At a glance

Other highlights from the Mayer meets Wall Street kaffeeklatsch:

  • Yahoo remains a unique Internet property that can still delight users with compelling content, but needs to return to its roots as a consumer Internet company, "focused on user experience," according to Mayer.
  • Yahoo has under-invested in development and splintered the brand. She indicated a need for a more coherent strategy, especially as world becomes increasingly mobile.
  • This wasn't so much a vision statement as a pledge to focus on nuts and bolts as Mayer talked up the value in Yahoo's existing brands and said there was "a lot to build on," adding that "this is about improved execution." Look for the company to make investments in the key verticals where it already enjoys leading positions, such as Yahoo Sports.
  • Contrary to rumors, the company is not planning mega-sized deals -- at least not in the immediate future. "We don't have particular acquisitions in mind today," according to Mayer. Noting that "most acquisitions are less than $100 million," Mayer said that Yahoo was primarily interested in acquisitions with price tags in the "double digit millions and low hundreds of millions" of dollars. (Newly-appointed CFO Ken Goldman, who also appeared on the conference call, reinforced that message, saying the company would be reviewing "smallish" deals.)
  • In 2009, Yahoo struck a deal that left Microsoft in charge of powering Yahoo search and non-premium related advertising. Mayer was blunt about how it's working out, calling the results a "disappointment." (Sergey and Larry, are you listening?), but the alliance with Microsoft gives Yahoo more control over the search experience, and the company is benefiting from the revenue guarantee.