Raspberry Chorus: Yahoo’s Newest E-Mail Interface

If you use Yahoo’s e-mail platform and can’t stand its new interface (actually there have been two of them within the past year, with the second one even more irritatingly clunky than the first), raise your hand.

Yahoo's e-mail interface failIf you did, you’re among the scads of people who are unimpressed, irritated or even angry about the changes.

As it turns out, even Yahoo’s own employees are in a negative frame of mind about using Yahoo’s e-mail (or its search tool).

That fact was inadvertently revealed to the world in November when an internal company memo was leaked.  In the memo, Yahoo senior vice president of communications Jeff Bonforte and chief information officer Randy Roumillat wrote:

“Earlier this year we asked you to move to Yahoo Mail for your corporate email account.  25 percent of you made the switch (thank you).  But even if we used the most generous of grading curves … we have clearly failed in our goal to move our co-workers to Yahoo Mail. 

“It’s time for the remaining 75 percent to make the switch.  Beyond the practical benefits of giving feedback to your colleagues on the Mail team, as a company it’s a matter of principle to use the products we make.  (BTW, same for Search.)

Messrs. Bonforte and Roumillat seem to forget that this is America of the 21st Century — not the Soviet Union of the 1960s. 

If three-fourths of a company’s employees won’t use its own products, those products can’t be very good.  And the notion of coercion seems only destined to backfire – witness the leaking of the company memo. 

That’s Raspberry #1.

It doesn’t help that the two principals chose as their e-mail subject line this little bon mot:  “Windows 95 called and they want their mail app back.”

Implying that your recipients are mindless rubes isn’t a way to foster much in the way of cooperation and goodwill …

That’s Raspberry #2.

If Yahoo’s top brass were smart, they’d spend less time trying to pressure their employees – who must know a thing or two about the (de)merits of the interface. 

Instead, they should listen to the millions of Yahoo e-mail account holders who are none-too-pleased with the company’s latest “innovations.” 

That would be Raspberries #3 through #500,000 or so.  And yes, I’m in that category.

Consider comments like these that have been appearing all over cyberspace:

  • “The new Yahoo Mail is awful.  At least Yahoo Classic worked.  I’ll be moving everything I can from Yahoo.  Ugh.”
  • “Yahoo Mail seems as slow as treacle after the recent ‘forced march’ out of Yahoo Classic.  If it doesn’t get better soon, they are not going to have any users left.”
  • “I get buttonholed almost everywhere I go by [Yahoo email] users – including prominent techies – who complain about the new version.”
  • “Yahoo email and search are horrible … Yahoo email needs to be thrown out and rebuilt from scratch.  They need to also get someone who has a clue to create a spam filter.  The ‘stickiness’ of Yahoo email, search and other products sucks, plain and simple.”

This last comment also refers to a related issue.  As Wall Street Journal writer Kara Swisher noted in a story published in the industry website AllThingsD:

“A relentless and vocal group of Yahoo Mail users have been complaining vociferously after the Silicon Valley Internet giant drastically revamped its popular email service in October.  The ire includes a lot of distress over the removal of its tabs function and the addition of a multi-tasking feature in its place.”

As for me, I’d been struggling with the latest e-mail interface for awhile, thinking I might eventually come to like it (or at least to tolerate it).  After a few weeks, I came to the realization that this was never going to happen. 

That’s when I decided to figure out if there was to get the old interface back. 

The good news – at least for now – is this:  You can restore Yahoo Classic email. 

Yahoo doesn’t make it obvious, but by following the steps below, you can get yourself back out of e-mail purgatory:

  • After you open your Yahoo email, click on the small steamboat wheel located at the top right corner and select “Settings” from the dropdown menu.
  • Click on “Viewing Email” … then click on the box at the bottom labeled “Basic” and your screen will update to the classic version of Yahoo email.
  • Click on your browser’s “Back” button, and you will be returned to the original Mail Plus version of Yahoo (with the tabs).

These procedures should work with all of the major browsers (IE, Firefox and Safari).  But you may need to repeat these steps whenever you refresh your browser, or close mail and reopen. 

Even so, that’s way better than having to struggle with the new Yahoo interface.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree that the new Yahoo email interface is a “huge leap backwards” in terms of user-friendly functionality?  Please share your comments pro or con with other readers here.

Goodbye Hotmail … Hello Outlook

Hotmail becomes OutlookMicrosoft has finally bitten the bullet and acknowledged the catch-up ball it needs to play in the e-mail space.

Last week, Microsoft announced that it’s unveiling a completely revamped version of its Hotmail free online e-mail service.

Dubbed “Outlook” in a bid to transfer some of the goodwill from Microsoft’s popular Office email application to the free e-mail space, the successor product to Hotmail incorporates functionalities designed to make it more directly competitive with Google Gmail, which has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent times.

You may not realize it from the persistent dearth of industry press coverage about Hotmail, but it’s actually held the rank of the world’s largest online mail service, owning more than a third of the world market share (~325 million users), according to June 2012 reporting from cyber-statistics firm comScore.

But Microsoft’s margin over rivals has shrunk considerably, with Gmail hard on its tail at ~31% market share of users and Yahoo holding a similar percentage (~32%).

It may be surprising to learn that in the ever-changing digital space … but prior to this revamp Microsoft hadn’t updated any of the features or functionality of Hotmail in nearly a decade.

“A lot has changed in the last eight years, and we think it’s time for a fresh look at e-mail,” Chris Jones, a Microsoft exec, stated in a blog post that has to be the understatement of the decade.

Here’s some of what’s in store for users when they switch from Hotmail to Outlook:

  • A clean, uncluttered look – just like Gmail.
  • Tasteful, unobtrusive advertisements appearing in the right column of the screen – just like Gmail.
  • Users can link up with all major social media accounts to view the latest updates from their contacts and friends – just like Gmail.

Is this beginning to sound a bit repetitive?

But there is one feature that may give Outlook a bit of a leg up on its free online competitors: The service will automatically detect mass messages like sales notices, daily deals, newsletters and social updates and place them in separate folders. Users can customize this functionality to sort incoming e-mail any way they wish.

I haven’t used Hotmail in the past … although I might be tempted to consider Outlook now that these newest innovations have been added.

But the long-term success of Outlook – and any free e-mail platform – is going to be how effectively they can connect various online assets together to provide “one-stop convenience” for users.

One thing’s certain: There’s no way Microsoft can let another eight years go by before making more enhancements to its free e-mail service offering, considering the always-aggressive posture of Google and its Olympian competitive spirit.

Shopping in the Internet Age: Let’s Make a Deal

Consumers love their online dealsI hear the complaint often that e-mail has become the preserve of “deal a day” promotions and communications from brands that have devolved into little more than breathless announcements about discounts that are “too good to pass up,” coupled with the obligatory “free shipping” pot-sweetener.

And then the next day, another deal shows up that’s practically the same as the last one …

But how surprising is this, really? Let’s not forget that daily newspaper advertising – the equivalent antecedent to e-mail marketing, has always had a similar focus on price, sales and deals.

It’s just that with e-mail, it seems more ubiquitous because they’re being pitched to us hourly on any number of digital platforms and mobile devices, rather than just once a day with the newspaper delivery.

And there’s no doubt that the sheer volume of deal activity is growing – the low cost of e-mail marketing makes sure of that. Not only is seemingly every consumer brand out there working the e-mail channel like they did catalogues and newspaper advertising in the past, there’s also the bevy of coupon marketers like LivingSocial, Groupon, Yipit and Gilt City, to name just the top few.

Some have discerned a decline in the “quality” of the information that is being provided; whereas there may have once been some educational, informative or “cool” content included along with the special deals, now it’s often devolved into nothing but “price, price, price” and “savings, savings, savings.”

The extent of consumer interaction with “deal-a-day” websites and e-mail offerings was quantified recently in consumer research conducted by Yahoo and Ipsos OTX MediaCT. The survey, fielded in February 2011, discovered that U.S. adults who are on the Internet subscribe to an average of three daily or weekly shopping e-mails or e-newsletters. (And more than half subscribe to two or more.)

How often are people reading these e-communiqués? With daily regularly, it turns out.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents who subscribe to at least two of these “daily deal” e-mails or e-newsletters report that they read all of the messages that are sent. Here’s how reading frequency breaks out:

 Read several times per day: ~22% of respondents
 … Once per day: ~38%
 … A few times per week: ~23%

 Read once per week: ~7%
 … A few times per month: ~5%
 … Once per month or less: ~5%

The same Yahoo/Ipsos survey measured the degree of pass-along activity, which is one of the most potent aspects of e-mail marketing. Most recipients reported doing this – about 45% doing so on a weekly basis or more frequently:

 Forwarding deals to friends or family several times per week: ~17%
 … Several times per day: ~12%
 … Once per day: ~10%
 … Once per week: ~6%

 Forwarding once per month or less frequently: ~19%
 … Never doing so: ~22%

Despite the complaint commonly heard about groaning e-mail inboxes, the Yahoo/Ipsos survey gives little indication that consumers are in reality becoming all that tired of the onslaught of daily deal promos. In fact, over six in ten respondents in the survey reported that they subscribe to more of them today compared to last year.

Moreover, nearly half of the survey respondents reported that they’re excited to receive them … and that they “can’t wait” to see the latest deals being offered each time.

There’s another way we know that these deals are retaining their relevance: Three-fourths of the respondents reported that these types of e-mails come to their main inbox rather than to a separate account they’ve set up to receive such offers. So there’s little doubt that when people say that these deals are desirable, they actually mean it.

We consumers do like our deals, don’t we? And if you think that the popularity of deals and discounts is due to the recession, that’s belied by the fact that even America’s super-affluent are on the deal bandwagon. Unity Marketing’s recent survey of the wealthiest 2% of Americans — those earning $250,000+ per year — finds that value-priced Amazon is the top shopping destination for ~45% of them. Not only that, ~10% use Groupon for coupons and ~8% use Craigslist.

No, it seems bargain-hunting is the thing for practically everyone.

Online Display Ad Effectiveness: Skepticism Persists

Online Display AdvertisingAs the variety of options for online advertising have steadily increased over the years, the reputation of display advertising effectiveness has suffered. Part of this is in the statistics: abysmal clickthrough rates on many online display ads with percentages that trend toward the microscopic.

But another part is just plain intuition. People understand that when folks go online, they’re usually on a mission – whether it’s information-seeking, looking for products to purchase, or avocational pursuits.

Simply put, the “dynamic” is different than magazines, television or radio — although any advertiser will tell you that those media options also have their share of challenges in getting people to take notice and then to take action.

The perception that online display advertising is a “bad” investment when compared to search engine marketing is what’s given Google its stratospheric revenue growth and profits in recent years. And that makes sense; what better time to pop up on the screen than when someone has punched in a search term that relates to your product or service?

In the B-to-B field, the knock against display advertising is even stronger than in the consumer realm. In the business world, people have even less time or inclination to be distracted by advertising that could take them away from their mission at hand.

It doesn’t take a swath of eye-tracking studies to prove that most B-to-B practitioners have their blinders on to filter out extraneous “noise” when they’re in information-seeking mode.

This isn’t to say that B-to-B online display advertising isn’t occurring. In fact, in a new study titled Making Online Display Marketing Work for B2B, marketing research and consulting firm Forrester Research, Inc. reports that about seven in ten B-to-B interactive marketers employ online display advertising to some degree in their promotional programs.

And they do so for the same reasons that compelled these comparnies to advertise in print trade magazines in the past. According to the Forrester report, the primary objectives for online display advertising include:

 Increase brand awareness: ~49% of respondents
 Lead generation: ~46%
 Reaching key target audiences: ~46%
 Driving direct sales: ~41%

But here’s a major rub: Attitudes toward B-to-B online display advertising are pretty negative — and that definitely extends to the ad exchanges and ad networks serving the ads. Moreover, most don’t foresee any increased effectiveness in the coming years.

That may explain why Forrester found that fewer than 15% of the participants in its study reported that they have increased their online display advertising budgets in 2011 compared to 2010 – even as advertising budgets have trended upward overall.

When you look closer at display, there’s actually some interesting movement. Google has committed to a ~$390 million acquisition of display ad company Admeld. And regardless of the negative perceptions that may be out there, Google’s Ad Exchange and Yahoo’s Right Media platforms have created the ability for advertisers to bid on ad inventories based on their value to them.

Moreover, new capabilities make it easier to measure and attribute the impact of various media touchpoints — online display as well as others — that ultimately lead to conversion or sales.

But the negative perceptions about online display advertising continue, proving again that attitudes are hard to change — even in the quickly evolving world of digital advertising.

Twitter’s World: Click … or Clique?

Twitter traffic:  dominateed by a tiny fraction of users.

Half of all tweets are generated by fewer than one-half of one percent of Twitter accounts.

What’s happening these days with Twitter? The micro-blogging service continues to light up the newswires every time there’s a civil disturbance in a foreign land, because of how easily and effectively it facilitates planning and interaction among the dissidents.

But what we’re also finding out is that Twitter is overwhelmingly dominated by just a small fraction of its users.

In fact, Cornell University and Yahoo recently published results of an evaluation of ~260 million tweets during 2009 and 2010, which found that ~50% of the tweets were generated by just 20,000 Twitter users.

That is right: Fewer than one half of one percent of Twitter’s user base accounts for fully half of all tweet activity.

Just who makes up this “rarified realm” of elite users? It turns out that they fall into four major groups:

 Media properties (e.g., CNN, New York Times)
 Celebrities (e.g., Ashton Kutcher … Lady Gaga)
 Business organizations (e.g., Starbucks)
 Blogs

Even more interestingly, these “elite” users aren’t interfacing with the rest of us “regular Twitter folk” as much as they are simply following each other: Celebs follow celebs … media companies follow other media companies … bloggers follow other blogs.

The Cornell/Yahoo research report, titled Who Says What to Whom on Twitter, can be found here.

But one wonders if the report should be retitled Much Ado About Nothing?

What’s Happening with Web Search Behaviors?

Search EnginesMore than 460 million searches are performed every day on the Internet by U.S. consumers. A new report titled 2010 SERP Insights Study from Performics, an arm of Publicis Groupe, gives us interesting clues as to what’s happening in the world of web search these days.

The survey, fielded by Lancaster, PA-based ROI Research, queried 500 U.S. consumers who use a search engine at least once per week, found that people who search the Internet regularly are a persistent lot.

Nine out of ten respondents reported that they will modify their search and try again if they aren’t successful in their quest. Nearly as many will try an alternate search engine if they don’t succeed.

As for search engine preference, despite earnest efforts recently to knock Google down a notch or two, it remains fully ensconced on the top perch; three-fourths of the respondents in this survey identify Google as their primary search engine. Moreover, Google users are less likely to stray from their primary search engine and try elsewhere.

But interestingly, Google is the “search engine of choice” for seasoned searchers more than it is for newbies. The Performics study found that Google is the leading search engine for only ~57% of novice users, whereas Yahoo does much better among novices than regular users (~36% versus ~18% overall).

What about Bing? It’s continuing to look pretty weak across the board, with only ~7% preferring Bing.

The Performics 2010 study gives us a clear indication as to what searchers are typically seeking when they use search engines:

 Find a specific manufacturer or product web site: ~83%
 Gather information before making a purchase online: ~80%
 Find the best price for a product or service: ~78%
 Learn more about a product or service after seeing an ad elsewhere: ~78%
 Gather information before purchasing in-store or via a catalog: ~76%
 Find a location for purchasing a produce offline: ~74%
 Find coupons, specials, or sales: ~63%

As for what types of listings are more likely to attract clickthroughs, brand visibility on the search engine results page turns out to be more important than you might think. Here’s how respondents rated the likelihood to click on a search result:

 … If it includes the exact words searched for: ~88%
 … If it includes an image: ~53%
 … If the brand appears multiple times on the SERP: ~48%
 … If it includes a video: ~26%

The takeaway message here: Spend more energy on achieving multiple high SERP rankings than in creating catchy video content!

And what about paid or sponsored links – the program that’s contributing so much to Google’s sky-high stock price? As more searchers come to understand the difference between paid and “natural” search rankings … fewer are drawn to them. While over 90% of the respondents in this research study reported that they have ever clicked on paid sponsored listings, only about one in five of them do so on a frequent basis.

Newspapers crash … Online news soars.

The latest annual News Users report by Outsell, Inc. predicts additional declines in print newspaper circulation as consumers continue to gravitate to online news. It is the third annual report issued by this marketing and communications research firm, which is developed from findings gathered in consumer surveys.

Outsell projects that Sunday newspaper readers will drop to ~43 million by 2012. That would represent a decline of some 20 million readers from Sunday papers’ circulation heights in the 1990s.

But what’s even more noteworthy is the continuing evolution in online activities. Today, nearly 60% of consumers report that they go online for “news right now.” That’s up from 33% just a few years ago.

And where are people going for their online news? By a large margin, it’s to aggregator sites like Google News, Yahoo and Drudge Report rather than to newspaper sites. As an example, 44% of the people who go to Google News scan the headlines there, without clicking through or accessing the newspapers’ individual sites.

Other key findings from the Outsell survey:

One in five consumers now go to online news aggregators for their “first in the day” news, up from 10% three years ago. TV/cable still leads with 30%, but that margin has been shrinking dramatically.

Paid online content is not a picking up the slack for newspapers, with participation rates of no more than 10% of consumers.

Newspapers retain strengths in reporting local topics (e.g., local news, sports and entertainment), even as national topics have gone pretty much all-digital.

That being stated, if a valued local online news site were to put up a pay wall – or require a paid subscription to the print paper in order to gain free online access – three out of four respondents claimed they would go somewhere else to find the news free of charge. (That’s despite the fact that good alternative news sources at the local level are usually not so numerous.)

The Outsell study found that consumers continue to believe printed news is worth paying for … but they expect the news they get online to be free of charge.

The big problem: It looks like it’s too late for publishers to “transition” reader willingness to pay for print news over to now paying for that same content online.

Nope, that train’s already left the station.

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