Can Bing-Yahoo! survive Marissa Mayer?

search allianceWhen longtime Google executive (she was employee #20 at Google, and left as Vice President of Local, Maps, and Location Services) Marissa Mayer took over the CEO position at Yahoo!, our thoughts immediately went to the 2 year old Bing-Yahoo! “Alliance”, which brought Bing much needed volume, but hasn’t done much at all for Yahoo!, to be honest.

Now there are at least rumblings that Mayer will revisit Yahoo!’s part in the alliance.  A number of recent blog posts and news stories have noted that Mayer is looking closely at search.

Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mayer plans to focus on products, to rewire Yahoo! to develop or acquire web services, and to get employees back to “thinking about users”.

The Journal went on to note Mayer’s plans for search:

As part of her product push, Ms. Mayer has given employees signals that she wants to revamp the Yahoo Web-search service, given her background as a search executive at Google.

Yahoo Search is powered by Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine but Yahoo controls the look of the search results. The search-advertising partnership has shown signs of improvement, with Yahoo’s search revenue rising year-over-year during the first half of 2012 after numerous quarters of revenue contraction.

But Yahoo search’s U.S. market share has declined for years, falling to 13% in June from 15.9% a year earlier, according to comScore Inc.

And while, as the WSJ notes, the alliance is showing at least some signs of picking up, investors and analysts haven’t been happy with Yahoo!’s end of the bargain.  In a post on Investopedia last Wednesday, while saying that the hiring of Mayer may bring some “much needed change” to Yahoo!, describes the Bing-Yahoo! search deal:

Likewise, Carol Bartz essentially “gave the store away,” when she signed a poor deal with Microsoft a year later, which stripped Yahoo! of its search engine roots. That deal outsourced Yahoo!’s search function through Microsoft’s Bing software.

In a post on Forbes riffing on MG Siegler’s call for Apple to replace Google as the default search provider for the iPhone, Eric Jackson is a bit more blunt about what Yahoo! should do:

The Bartz-Ballmer deal has been a bust for Yahoo! shareholders.  It should be cancelled — or have the terms significantly changed to benefit Yahoo.

In the alliance, Bing gained users and potentially strengthened Microsoft Advertising, although that hasn’t gone as well as either Yahoo! or Microsoft had hoped.  Yahoo! cut costs by outsourcing search technology to Bing, but may have lost focus on promoting search in the meantime. Microsoft has made out the better of the two, as Danny Sullivan outlined in a post on Search Engine Land shortly after the announcement of Mayer’s hiring.  But even as Sullivan sees Google as Yahoo!’s only real alternative, there’s that pesky DOJ to content with, who blocked talks of an earlier deal with Google and Yahoo!.  Sullivan goes on to daydream about one wild, but interesting possibility:

That leads to another bit of fun speculation. What if new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer — who knows search pretty well — pitches that Microsoft should sell Bing to Yahoo? Or perhaps, Bing’s search talent and technology? What if Yahoo decides to reassume all the search technology and ad operations, promising that Microsoft can have its own search engine without all those pesky costs, just as Microsoft once promised Yahoo?

Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? What could beat that?

Of course it’s just too early to say what Mayer and Yahoo! will do, although her strong Google ties do make things interesting.  But it’s almost certain that she’ll do something with search.  She didn’t spend 13 years at Google for nothing.