Yahoo tips Google off Web traffic throne: How Marissa Mayer did it

Yahoo was the Web's top destination in July, a ranking the company has not achieved since May 2011. Knocking Google out of first place is a feather in the cap of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who took charge last summer.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters/File
The Yahoo logo is seen at the company's headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif., April 16. Yahoo was the Web's top destination in July.

Yahoo has clawed its way back in the competition to be the Internet’s leading destination, edging out Google in US visitors in July.

For a company that’s been viewed as a flailing dinosaur from the Web’s 1990s boom, this is welcome news – and it puts a badge of success on the firm’s high-profile CEO, Marissa Mayer.

She was recruited from Google to bring some fresh-blood leadership. In the process, she became an instant test case of what a have-it-all woman (she’s juggling a demanding career with being mom to a baby boy) can achieve.

The latest news, delivered this week by the Web-tracking firm ComScore, is this: Sites owned by Yahoo! Inc. racked up 196.6 million unique visitors from US homes, workplaces, and universities. Google came in second at 192.3 million, with Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, and Amazon taking the next slots in the ranking.

A range of news and video-entertainment firms fill out much of the list after that. (In all, by the way, ComScore counted 225 million unique Web visitors, up by a million from June.)

July marks the first time Yahoo has led the ComScore ranking since May 2011. Yahoo’s victory is all the sweeter given that its tally doesn’t count traffic from Tumblr, a popular blog site that Yahoo now owns.

Last year, Yahoo’s traffic numbers were headed downward, as was its stock price, before Ms. Mayer came on board in mid-July.

What accounts for the turnaround, and how meaningful is it?

In part, Mayer has been pushing her team to pay attention to the details. She’s coaxed her staff to improve user experiences for everything from e-mail to the feature-filled home page that visitors can customize.

In a recent conference call for investors, Mayer touted the fight Yahoo is putting up on Google’s core turf – Web-search services.

“We've placed search results higher on the page, and we're delivering them faster,” Mayer said July 16. “And we're doing essentially an experiment each day, more than 130 this past quarter, to improve the user experience and deliver revenue.”

That’s the key part investors are looking for. It’s a tough thing to deliver in a competitive landscape for Internet content.

In the July conference call, Mayer described revenue as “solid” but also as “roughly flat year over year.”

The hope that Yahoo’s turnaround is for real – and that revenue gains will follow its traffic gains and new-product efforts – has pushed the company’s stock price up by some 75 percent since Mayer took over.

During the past six months, Yahoo shares have been steady gainers, far outpacing both Google and the broad universe of high-tech companies.

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