The comeback kid: How Yahoo, a site your friends never visit, dominates the Internet

When comScore reported on Thursday that Yahoo was the No. 1 most-visited website in the country—overtaking Google for the first time in two years—I admit I was surprised.

It wasn’t the Tumblr Effect. comScore counted Tumblr traffic separately—the microblogging site hovered at No. 28 in July. So if none of your friends use Yahoo, who does? A comScore spokesperson told TechHive the jump wasn’t attributable to any particular reason—rather, many of Yahoo’s sites, or channels, saw traffic increases.

Powerful publicity stunts

I’m willing to bet Yahoo Mail saw a significant jump in July—that’s when Yahoo announced its plans to recycle inactive email accounts. Users who probably hadn’t visited Yahoo in months, even years, were encouraged to revive their accounts or reserve new screennames. No figures are available following that media blitz, but it’s a sure bet that users flocked to Yahoo to reserve names that had to sound better than the random words paired with a series of numbers that characterized many Yahoo accounts in the early aughts (“softballchick345678,” anyone?).

Yahoo Wishlist
Yahoo Mail's campaign likely boosted traffic in July.

But aside from email users, who are all these Web surfers visiting Yahoo on their desktops? People obviously aren’t using Yahoo as their main search engine, which is how Google gains a large share of traffic. For instance, searches typed into Chrome’s navigation bar that turn up Google search results count as hits for Google, the comScore rep said. Yahoo doesn’t have that perk. The site ranked third behind Google and Microsoft in July with a paltry 11 percent of search engine traffic.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has coordinated a killer public relations campaign for the company, which went from fuddy-duddy search engine to thriving media brand in a year. From the telecommuting policy she controversially ended to the 17-year-old entrepreneur she bought out for $30 million, Mayer knows how to make headlines. But that can’t be what’s driving Yahoo traffic, can it?

The proof is in the smartphone

marissa mayer
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

That leaves older Internet users, many of whom set Yahoo as their home page before Google was a twinkle in the eyes of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It’s worth noting that comScore doesn’t include mobile traffic in its numbers. Can a website really win the Internet without mobile traffic to back it up? Probably not.

Until Yahoo can sustain its Internet domination, we’ll call July’s numbers a one-off. But watch your back, Google. Yahoo is clearly circling the nest. The company's second-quarter profits were up 46 percent and Yahoo has launched almost a dozen new products since Mayer took the helm. A front page redesign, Flickr relaunch, new mobile apps, and other Mayer-led initiatives prove that Yahoo is in it to win it. The company's next project: A new logo to reflect the new Yahoo.

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