Business

With Google on Scene, Yahoo Gives Finance Site a Facelift

Looking to retain its lead in one area where it has a significant advantage on its portal rivals, Yahoo said Monday it would add new features and products as part of a redesign of its Finance site.

Yahoo Finance remains the category leader, out-drawing MSN’s site, a resurgent AOL offering and Google’s recently launched site. Yahoo garners about 35 percent of all finance-related traffic to portals, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, more than double the traffic of number-two MSN Money.

Staying Ahead of the Competition

The moves are seen as an attempt to solidify that advantage as Google and others bring new innovations, such as interactive charts, live blogs and enhanced chatting capabilities, to the space.

Yahoo said the revamp would include enhanced stock charts and a video initiative, with several new providers of business-focused video news being brought on board. The charts in particular appear to be a response to Google’s offering, which includes highly interactive charts that can pinpoint specific trades and show stock price trends in relation to the exact timing of news events such as earnings releases.

“The new stock charts on Yahoo Finance set an industry standard for how financial data is delivered to investors on the Internet,” said Peggy White, general manager of the finance site. “Stock charts have historically been a relatively static offering on financial Web sites, but we’ve evolved our stock chart into an easy-to-use, dynamic application.”

The charts started to become available Monday in beta form, offering full-screen charts that use flash and dhtml to create a more interactive experience and allow users to super-impose events such as stock splits and dividend payouts. The new charts also extend the time over which a stock’s performance can be viewed, with data going back “decades” in some cases. Charts can now also be printed or e-mailed with one-click, according to Yahoo.

Video on Demand

The moves emphasize the value of the Finance traffic to Yahoo and other portals. Yahoo Finance has long been one of the portal’s strongest performing sites, both in terms of traffic, in terms of how long people spend on the site, and in terms of Yahoo’s ability to sell premium services and products. For instance, the site began selling stock reports and other premium content several years ago when Yahoo began to diversify its revenue base.

Also new on the site are additional community tools, including expanded chat rooms for stocks — with users now able to rate postings based on their usefulness and messages on similar topics now grouped together in threads. Yahoo also added an RSS-like feed program that lets third party Web sites syndicate Yahoo Finance content onto their sites.

The Yahoo Finance Badge, requires publishers to follow a three-step sign-up process, after which they receive code they can add to automatically link their own sites or blogs to Finance content.

Yahoo said its program represented the first time such content was being offered for free syndication and with such a simple setup process.

The video component will include content from ABC.com, CNN.com, Forbes.com and SmartMoney, with more coming, Yahoo said.

The Winner Is … Users

The quest to have the top finance site is based on a number of factors, not the least of which is the desirable demographics of the users of such sites, who are typically stock owners and investors with a higher net worth than the general Internet population, according to various reports.

Until recently, Google’s own stock pages were using Yahoo Finance feeds. That changed in March, when Google Finance went live. That move was significant because it represented the latest in a series of moves by Google to fashion itself into more of a Web portal than a pure search provider.

Given the traffic data that shows Yahoo still far in the lead, it’s unlikely competitive pressures forced the changes, Sterling Market Intelligence analyst Greg Sterling said.

“Widespread speculation suggests that these changes were motivated by the introduction of Google Finance,” Sterling commented. “But in this instance Yahoo obviously isn’t subscribing to the ‘if it ain’t broke’ school of online strategy.”

Sterling noted that the Finance revamp comes as Yahoo also launches the redesign of its home page, with the overall goal of making the pages more effective at capturing users and giving them reasons to stay on the portal longer.

Google’s finance offering appeared to be a nod to the traffic is was sending Yahoo’s way rather than a short-term way to gain more users, according to Forrester analyst Charlene Li. She predicts few people will change their loyalties from Yahoo to Google.

Still, she said Google’s site had some features that were a step ahead of Yahoo, including the interactive charts and improved search, which eliminates the need to know a company’s stock ticker symbol or go through a cumbersome look-up process.

Yahoo also appears to be answering another improvement from Google — cleaning up message boards to remove spam and inappropriate postings. Google is doing so through paid monitors, while Yahoo is relying on users, who can flag bad posts or give them low ratings.

Overall, the investments being made in the finance sites reflect the larger race among the major portals, with the same pattern repeating itself across various services, from Web mail to search, video and photo-sharing.

“Whenever someone innovates or steps into the lead, you can expect a response pretty quickly,” Li said. “The users get to reap the benefits.”

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