Yahoo's big move to mobile: Little to report just yet

More than 200 million unique monthly users now on Yahoo, but CEO Marissa Mayer says the work to date has had only a minor impact on the company's business.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
3 min read
Yahoo's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif.
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When she grabbed the mic for her first quarterly earnings call as Yahoo's CEO last October, Marissa Mayer told listeners that she would ultimately move one-half of the company's engineers to assignments working on mobile. That was how vital she saw mobile to the company's future.

A lot of investors got understandably excited. After years of musical chairs at the top, finally there was a new boss who "got it." This proverbial platform change was something that could help return the pizzazz to Yahoo. Mobile could pave the way for Yahoo to use search and personalization in new ways and take advantage of a formidable stock of daily content. The company's stock reflected that new-found optimism, increasing in value some 30 percent since Mayer took over last fall. But expectations may have hopscotched ahead of reality. One takeaway from today's earnings conference call was that Mayer doesn't yet have much to point to in terms of results. At least not just yet.

"There's a little bit of the shift to mobile affecting us there, but mobile usage is pretty incremental and additive to the experience," Mayer said after Yahoo posted slightly better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings.

To be sure, she did not signal any deviation from the mobile strategy articulated earlier. In fact, Mayer made a point of offering props to Yahoo developers for coming up with a new Flicker iOS app, categorizing their work as "a huge win for Yahoo and our passionate users." She said the release of the new iOS app had helped contribute to a 25 percent increase in the number of photos "uploaded, viewed, and shared on a daily basis."

But that would be the only meaningful hard number about mobile offered during the course of an hour-long Q&A session. Asked about metrics for mobile, she demurred.

"In terms of metrics to track for mobile, we are not breaking it out separately right now," Mayer said. "We're offering new metrics right now, price per click, and paid clicks. Here, I really believe this is about the user migration to mobile and the fact that we have 200 million (unique monthly users) for mobile -- I would look at the overall numbers there, the revenue will follow."

On that first conference call in October, Mayer underscored the importance of that platform shift, and it continued apace during the course of the last year. She said that mobile adoption had grown in 2012 to "more than 200 million unique monthly users." In the same breath, she added that "from a monetization perspective this is still a very nascent source of revenue for us."

At one point during today's session, one questioner asked whether Mayer saw a risk to Yahoo assuming the prospect that rising mobile usage in search leads to the cannibalization of desktop-based Internet searches.

Again, she said, it's "incremental":

There may come a point where cannibalization happens, and we're positioning ourselves to understand mobile. In terms of having 50 percent of our engineering staff on mobile, I think this is something that'll happen. To date, we have started to shift some of our engineering teams to be more focused on mobile. We need to get to a critical mass on that. We've nicely grown the area with the fact that we hired 120 new computer science degrees in Q4, and those people are largely being allocated to new areas.

In other words, more news to follow. Just not this time around.