You can gauge the unexpectedness of an event by the number of tweets announcing the news that start with “Wow.” And Monday, my tweetstream was full of wow’s, because the news broke that Marissa Mayer – formerly a VP at Google and one of the company’s most public faces – was leaving to take the helm at Yahoo as CEO. This is shocking because:
1. Who would choose Yahoo over Google?! Yahoo seems to exist solely to serve as the butt of tech jokes.
2. OMG, Marissa Mayer is pregnant!!!
Let’s take the second shocker first: Does it matter that Mayer is pregnant? Can a pregnant woman run a company? I’ll answer this question with a little analogy. My brother and I went to the same college (Rice University, go Owls!), and we used to play a lot of ping-pong. Now, I’m pretty damn good at ping-pong – really! I’ve got a killer “Asian grip” – but my brother, Adam, is definitely better. (Story of my life.) He beats me every time. But one day, amazingly, we were having a really close game. Half the time I was ahead a couple of points. We’d have a long rally, he’d pull into the lead, then I’d come out ahead again. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it. The game was almost over when our friend Robinson walked by and said, “Hey Adam, why are you playing left-handed?” The point is, my brother is still a really good ping-pong player even when he holds the racquet in his weak hand. And Marissa Mayer is clearly a brilliant woman – pregnancy may be a distraction, but that doesn’t mean she still can’t run Yahoo better than any of the other potential candidates for the job.
What about the first one – why did Mayer leave Google for Yahoo? Probably because she’d rather be the captain of a smaller ship than first mate of a big one – or not even first mate, maybe second or third. According to Jolie O’Dell at Venture Beat, Mayer left Google because “she had to” – “Google simply didn’t have room” for her:
Money, beauty, love, and a fabulous career — is there anything Mayer doesn’t have?
The one thing she lacked is the sole reason she’s now at Yahoo: Power.
At Google, Mayer had become a bit of a figurehead. While we’re sure she continued to work maniacally hard on her projects (she is known for pulling 130-hour work weeks and trading sleep for a few more hours in front of a laptop), she was passed up for an important promotion in the spring of 2011 […] it became obvious to observers of the young dynamo that she had hit her own personal ceiling — not a gender-based one; Google is famously fair to all kinds of employees and counts several women among its senior leadership and board. But for some reason, Mayer was not going to get a seat in the C-suite or on the board of directors at Google.
Probably, pride was a driving factor. Mayer doesn’t want to be seen as having plateaued, career-wise. She’s 37 – maybe she’s not ready to give up the title of “rising star.” And her trajectory couldn’t go up unless she said goodbye to Google. Maybe she had been looking for an opening – a way out – for a while.
But the question remains: Can Mayer change Yahoo’s trajectory?
Can Marissa Mayer Make Yahoo Relevant Again?
DealBook reports that Mayer plans to focus on Yahoo’s stronger products – which don’t include search: “As she hashes out Yahoo’s strategy, Ms. Mayer said she wanted to focus on the Internet company’s strong franchises, including e-mail, finance and sports. She also hopes to do more with its video broadband and its mobile businesses, tapping into its significant base of users.”
Lance Ulanoff at Mashable thinks Mayer is “the beleaguered Internet giant’s best hope yet.” He also says “Yahoo is a content company” and “She has to choose which products and services to keep and which to cut loose … Will Flickr survive? How will she approach Yahoo mobile?”
Beth Teitell at Boston.com  writes that her challenges include “attracting top talent, steering the company in the right direction, and improving its reputation with consumers.” She also points out that since this child will be her first, it’s hard to predict “how she will feel about being a working parent.”
Douglas Rushkoff at CNN  is extremely optimistic about the appointment – he says she “could breathe life not just into this failing company, but into the World Wide Web itself”! Here’s more:
In an effort to focus on the future and please shareholders, Google is shedding what it sees as obsolete technologies.
In doing so, however, Google is leaving the Web open for Yahoo to reclaim
I believe Google is abandoning the Web at its own peril, and in a misguided effort to compete on the much more ephemeral playing fields of social media and handheld gadgets. The Web is not over yet, not by a long shot.
On the other hand, by hiring Google's web visionary -- the very executive who beat them at their own game -- Yahoo is double-downing on the Web. The company may even figure out how to bring the Web to smartphones and social media before these newer technologies render browsing obsolete.
As one of the main developers of iGoogle – the portal that Google recently retired to its growing product graveyard – Marissa Mayer is well-positioned to explore this territory.
Naturally, not everyone is as excited. Louis Bedigian at Forbes quotes a condescending Herb Greenberg (“I don’t know what the Yahoo! board was thinking … This is a wonderful opportunity for her but this is also a remarkable challenge for someone that has no real leadership experience”) and Trip Chowdhry (“This is the fifth CEO at Yahoo in five years. We doubt if fifth is the charm”).
As that second quote suggests, Yahoo’s success or failure may not be entirely in Mayer’s control. As Farhad Manjoo at Slate puts it, “I don’t have a lot of confidence that she can pull that off—not because I doubt Mayer’s abilities but because the problem looks impossible. Tech turnarounds are rare. When companies hit the skids, they usually stay there.”
What do you think? Is there any hope for Yahoo?
More Web Marketing Highlights
Google appears to be testing new tabular site links . Pretty intense! SEOmoz takes a first look.
B2B marketing has a reputation for being harder and less “sexy” than B2C marketing – with good reason, I find. But Alex Cohen notes that “we’re emotional people regardless of whether we’re buying at work or for ourselves,” and shares some tips for boosting B2B conversions.
A small business in the UK went under after Penguin killed their website. Who’s to blame? Neyne at SEO Book thinks the business owner is partially responsible for not covering his ass – but he also blames Google and the SEO community itself.
I could tell immediately the @ShellIsPrepared  Twitter account was fake – but I just found out yesterday the man behind it is Travis Nichols, who I know from his work with the Poetry Foundation! What fun. Read all about the hoax and what it means in this interview with Travis on Forbes. Key quote:
What is a hoax? The idea of a hoax is a group that says it’s something that it’s not. Shell saying it can safely drill in the Arctic and abide by clean air rules and environmental standards is a hoax. Shell is not doing that. Note the rig getting away from it. People wringing their hands over what is an obviously satirical campaign that rubs them the wrong way for a few seconds before they realize it’s fake pales in comparison with what Shell is doing, the hoax they’re perpetuating on the American public.
Have a good weekend, folks.