Kara Swisher

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Q4: Will Marissa Mayer’s “Back to Its Roots” Strategy Get Yahoo Back to the Future?

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said the long-suffering Silicon Valley giant would be returning “back to its roots,” as part of an effort to finally turn it around.

That was among the little bits of strategery that Mayer revealed last week in an interview there. It’s actually part of a bigger plan which AllThingsD.com had reported on previously, to focus Yahoo on being a center of content discovery on the Web, across multiple devices, with wide-ranging and ” very friendly” partnering with other companies.

Given that Yahoo has little in the way of a platform at this point, or any kind of hardware business, Mayer stressed making nice with others on the Web.

“Yahoo has always been a very friendly company,” she said. “Our focus, in addition to technology, but also on media, means there is an opportunity for strong partnerships. That is what we will be focused on.”

This back-to-the-future plan is, in fact, a concept at the heart of the earliest days of Yahoo, with Mayer adding a mobile aspect now to give it current relevance.

“The nice thing at Yahoo is that we have all the content that people want on their phones. We have these daily habits,” she said. “I think whenever you have a daily habit and providing a lot of value around it, there is opportunity to not only provide that value to the end user but to create a great business.”

One can hope, as Yahoo’s revenue has been going steadily downward for years — none of which is Mayer’s fault, of course. But it is now her problem to fix, and today’s fourth-quarter report should be a good indicator about how the former Google exec is doing since she took the CEO job in July. It will be the first quarter reported that is fully under Mayer’s rule.

Wall Street analysts are estimating a profit of 27 cents per share in Q4, a rise from 24 cents in the same quarter a year ago. Net revenue is expected to be $1.21 billion, which is flat from a year ago.

The questions that will be asked on the conference call later today are likely to include: What Yahoo plans to do about its broken search relationship with Microsoft, the progress of long-running talks to shed its Yahoo Japan stake and how efforts to improve talent and cut lesser-performing employees is going.

It will be interesting to see if Yahoo surprises investors this quarter, as it did in the last one with a one-time gain from the sale of its Chinese assets. Also of interest will be to see exactly how much stock the company has bought back with the proceeds from that Asian windfall.

It has to be a lot, with Yahoo’s shares up almost 30 percent since the middle of last year, as Wall Street pins its hopes on seeing Mayer’s plan in action.

Now, Mayer is insisting by helping Internet users see more clearly, that investors will be able to discern a more lucrative path for Yahoo in the future.

“I definitely think that with the Web becoming so vast, there’s so much content and there’s so much social context, and now with mobile there’s so much location context and activity context, how do you pull all that together?” said Mayer in Davos. “The interesting way to take it is to bring some of that information … to actually make sense of the content. It’s the Internet ordered for you.”

How tall an order that is to fill, of course, remains to be seen.

But the action starts at 1 pm PT today with the results, following by a conference call with Mayer.

Until then, here’s Mayer in the video of her interview at Davos with Bloomberg TV, which is the first substantive one to date:


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