Yahoo to give home page a makeover

After holding on to the same basic framework for seven years, the Web portal is hoping to court advertisers with a redesign, according to sources.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
4 min read
Yahoo is planning to launch a newly redesigned home page that features a cleaner layout and a better showcase for advertisers, according to sources familiar with the changes.

The online portal, which has maintained the basic framework of its home page since 1995, will introduce the new site about mid-June, according to one source. Yahoo is hosting a user survey to gauge how Web surfers view the site's performance and usability.

The redesign is being fueled partly by advertisers, which are increasingly demanding more real estate on highly visible spots such as Yahoo's home page. Advertisers are irked that they can only buy minimal exposure on the main page of a site that draws a massive audience. The site sells a banner that is half the standard size of comparable ads on the Web. It also sells a square ad, or what it calls a "mantle" ad, in the center of its page for video or rich-media ads.

Yahoo has long tried to keep graphics-intensive or intrusive ads to a minimum on its home page because the ads can inhibit speed and performance--key principles held with near religious fervor by Yahoo co-founder David Filo since the site first launched.

Increasingly, however, the Web portal is under pressure to cater to advertisers that could reverse a steep decline in its revenues. The company has stepped further in this direction since Yahoo brought in Hollywood veteran Terry Semel as chief executive last year.

"Filo...believes passionately about the front page," said one source close to the company. "He wants simplicity and speed. On the other hand, there is obviously a push for more ad revenue, and the front page is an obvious opportunity--a push led by Semel."

Yahoo declined to comment on the pending changes. But Jeff Weiner, senior vice president of corporate development at Yahoo, said in a recent interview with CNET Radio that to some extent, there have been several iterations of the Yahoo home page in the last seven years. He added that Web visitors can look forward to "innovation and change on the home page and throughout the site," as well as in its search and directory.

Building a whole new Yahoo
The home page overhaul comes as the Web portal has introduced pronounced changes throughout the site, adding fees to services that had previously been offered for free and placing large, animated ads in popular areas such as finance, sports, news and e-mail, among others. By contrast, the home page largely has been hands off, although Yahoo has loosened its stance in recent months by allowing more invasive ads onto it--including a Ford Motor promotion that temporarily took over visitors' screens.

The changes in Yahoo's home page will be noticeable but not drastic, according to one source familiar with the redesign. The site will retain much of the current flavor, color and style but will include fewer links and clutter.

The simplified home page is meant to accentuate advertisements, the source said.

One area that will get more attention in the redesign is the prime real estate in the center of the home page known as the "mantle." The mantle box, which takes a sizeable portion of the screen, has featured links to Yahoo-affiliated areas such as FIFAWorldCup.com, its personals area or movie promotions for new releases such as "Bad Company," starring Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock. The page's redesign would further accentuate interactive types of advertisements on the site, according to sources familiar with Yahoo's plans.

Yahoo has substantially changed the structure of its site only once before, in 1995, when it expanded its directory listings to two columns and provided visitors with a search navigation box. At the time, it also spiffed up its title from basic text to a logo, adding its signature exclamation point.

Since then Yahoo has made numerous other changes but has stuck to the same basic design for the U.S. and overseas iterations of the site--a formula that helps visitors adjust and easily learn how to use the site, design experts say. But over the years it also has tacked on several new features and services with links from the home page, creating a sense of clutter.

Because of these additions, Yahoo is due for a redesign, said Jakob Nielsen, a Web design guru who recently published the book "Homepage Useability."

"I would love to see the home page be more advertiser friendly without being user hostile," he said. "The page is crammed with features, and it needs to clearly define starting points. The biggest improvement they can make is structuring all the features they have and prioritizing them so the user gets a better overview."

For example, Nielsen said Yahoo could improve its design by better integrating reference points such as those for news coverage. As it stands now, Yahoo's home page points to news in four separate places.

"Yahoo is like a good old friend, and it just works," Nielsen said. "But they've stretched their old idea too far, so I could see why they would want to go out with something new."

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