Yahoo is working on many fronts to pump up users' engagement with its Web sites and communication services, including significant improvements to Yahoo Mail, CEO Carol Bartz said Wednesday.
"What's happening with engagement? Does it matter that engagement is falling? What are we doing about it? Do we take issue with it? Are we concerned and should you be concerned?" Bartz said during the company's second investor day meeting in seven months.
When measured in terms of average minutes per visitor, Yahoo's user engagement has dropped significantly in the past 16 months, according to comScore. In January 2009, users spent an average of 336.4 minutes on Yahoo properties, but that number had dropped to 247.9 minutes by April of this year, according to comScore.
A Yahoo spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for more details about how Yahoo measures its overall user engagement.
"The big dog of engagement is mail," Bartz said.
Thus, Yahoo is hard at work on enhancements to its e-mail service, which it's confident will drive up its usage. "The functionality you'll see from us is exciting new interfaces, it's social inside the context of a mail session, it's photos, it's videos, it's smart inboxes," she said. "You'll see some exciting things happening with our mail products and that's important for engagement, very important."
Yahoo faces strong competition from Google and, more recently, from Facebook, whose user base has been growing by leaps and bounds in the past two years, but Bartz said that the three rivals offer different things to users. "There's a place for all of us on the Web," she said.
In addition to revamping Yahoo Mail, Yahoo has a strategy of "intense personalization" to increase user engagement, offering people "the Web of one" so their experience on Yahoo properties is as relevant to them as possible.
"If we have 600 million users around the world, why shouldn't we have 600 million unique pages for you, so unique you all get different content, you all get different ads, and by the way, different layouts," she said.
A big boost to this strategy will come from Yahoo's acquisition of Associated Content, which publishes articles, photos and other content from its network of 380,000 freelance contributors. That acquisition is expected to close in this year's third quarter.
Key elements Yahoo emphasizes to boost user engagement are local news and information, social capabilities, mobile access and video content, she said.
Yahoo also expects to see engagement improvements as its search partnership with Microsoft takes shape and progresses, now that the integration is under way with an eye to finishing it globally by mid-2012.
An ongoing modernization of its technology platform will also let Yahoo innovate more and faster because it will reduce the complexity involved in making timely changes to its Web sites and services, she said.