Google Finance has now been out long enough so that the tires have been kicked and senior management at the parent Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) can see traffic trends and user reaction. And, Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) knows whether Google has taken any of its prized eyeballs in this market, or if its rival's new finance beta has had a rickety start.
Given the traffic that Yahoo! Finance has, the traffic Google could funnel to its new section, and the premium that advertisers are willing to pay to reach investors, the stakes are high. And the ripple will be felt by other sites like MSN MoneyCentral, Marketwatch, and the Wall Street Journal (DJ) online edition.
One of the biggest single questions is, given the size of the opportunity, why hasn't either Google or Yahoo! done more to improve their respective financial sections?
The Yahoo! section is already good, but several other websites beat them in features that the big internet company could easily add or improve to pick up traffic. And if Google wants any chance to become a habitual destination for investors, both professional and private, one would think that they would have benchmarked the best of the web to have a set of features that would place it well above the competition.
Some of these features are not at either site. Cost is one factor for adding many items, but with huge traffic at stake, one of these companies may simply spend the money and expect to move traffic and ad revenue from competing sites.
Here are some items that are certainly are being reviewed at Google and Yahoo!:
1. Set up a search function for the sec.gov database. This combines Yahoo! or Google's search strength with one of the most valuable free financial databases in the world. If the SEC search box on every company came up on its stock quote page, it would be extremely useful. The Yahoo! SEC section carries abbreviated filings and is not very useful.
2. Go to the exchanges and pay them to offer free real time quotes for every stock looked up at the finance section. No one has even done this on a large scale and it would not be cheap, but it would drive massive traffic. It may be that you start out with snapshot and not streaming quotes because the financial deal with the exchanges might be better. The exchanges need the money, and the idea of using 20 minute delayed data in this day and age is a handicap.
3. Set up an exclusive relationship with Value Line or Morningstar to get their reports, or some section of them, for free. These are some of the most useful stock analysis tools around. The majority owner of Value Line is in her seventies so it might even be for sale. The stock screening software at both these sites is better than what Yahoo! has now.
4. Make the stock charts interactive. BigCharts.com does this as well as anyone, so a look at that site would be useful. Charts that are not interactive have an extremely limited use. Google got started on this with Flash stock charts, but they did not finish the job.
5. Get one or two of the largest brokerage firms to allow their research to be free on Yahoo! or Google Finance. It would be useful to their broker networks. Some of their institutional clients might not like it, but if even one major research house agrees, the rest will have to look at it.
6. Hire a few really good statisticians and start doing big lists like Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal do. Investors love useful lists. Print lists are usually delayed a few days because of the printing cycle. The Fortune 500 comes out once a year. Why shouldn't there be a Yahoo! Finance 500 every quarter. Good stat people can generate dozens of these lists a month. Investors will find them useful and the publicity drives traffic.
Nothing on this list is inexpensive, but both companies have the resources to make the improvements if they want to. If one of the two companies swings for the fences, it might just become the dominant destination on the Internet for financial information.
Douglas A. McIntyre is the former Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Financial World Magazine. He was also president of Switchboard.com when it was the 10th most visited website in the world, according to MediaMetrix. He has been chief executive of FutureSource, LLC and On2 Technologies, Inc. and has served on the boards of TheStreet.com and Edgar Online. He does not own securities in companies he writes about. McIntyre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.