updated 5/16/2006 8:23:32 AM ET 2006-05-16T12:23:32

Yahoo Inc.'s Web site is unveiling a new look Tuesday as the Internet powerhouse strives to remain the world's most popular online destination and strengthen its advertising appeal.

The overhaul marks the first facelift to Yahoo's home page since September 2004.

The redesigned page includes more interactive features that reduce the need to click through to other pages to review the weather, check e-mail, listen to music or monitor local traffic conditions.

Another addition, called "Yahoo Pulse," offers recommendations and insights about cultural trends culled from the Web site's 402 million users worldwide.

Yahoo is making the upgrade as it battles for traffic with longtime rivals MSN, AOL and Google Inc. while also trying to fend off an intensifying threat posed by the rise of social networking sites such as MySpace.com.

"Our goal is to have the best page on the Internet," said Dan Rosensweig, Yahoo's chief operating officer. "We feel like this (redesign) does something great for everybody."

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo regards the latest changes as the most dramatic renovations made to its front page since the site's 1994 debut as a bare-bones directory developed by Stanford University students Jerry Yang and David Filo.

The new look is long overdue, said Jupiter Research analyst David Card.  "The site was getting pretty long in the tooth and looking pretty old fashioned," he said. "Now, it looks clean, crisp and modern."

Even so, Card believes Yahoo's upgrades won't impress younger, cutting-edge Web surfers who are spending an increasing amount of time hanging out at MySpace.com.  "They didn't really push the envelope very hard."

The most notable changes will allow Yahoo users to pull down interactive menus giving them snapshots of weather, traffic and movie information as well as providing instant access to the site's popular e-mail, instant messaging and music services.

Like other widely visited Web sites, Yahoo must balance its desire to keep pace with the Internet's constantly shifting trends with the recognition that changing things too dramatically might alienate a large number of users comfortable with the status quo.

Yahoo settled on the final redesign, code-named "Spirit," after months of testing with selected users. As another precaution, the new look won't show up as the default page of Yahoo.com for several more months.

"Any time you touch the most visited page on the Internet, it's going to feel like a big change and we think this is a really big change," Rosensweig said.

Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, the two most visited Web sites after Yahoo, also have tweaked their looks during the past year.   (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Although Google still provides a page featuring little else than its Internet-leading search engine, it also offers an option that enables users to customize the home page to suit their personal tastes.

In April, Yahoo led the pack with 105.4 million unique U.S. visitors, an 11 percent increase from last year, according to Nielsen/NetRatings Inc.  MSN ranked second with 92.8 million visitors, a 6 percent increase from last year, followed closed by Google, whose traffic surged 27 percent during the past year to 92.1 million.  AOL's traffic remained flat at 70.4 million, Nielsen/NetRatings said.

Meanwhile, MySpace's traffic _ consisting mostly of teens and young adults — has more than quadrupled during the past year to 38.4 million U.S. visitors.  What's more, MySpace's visitors viewed a total of 19 billion pages on the site in April, surpassing Google (11.9 billion pages), MSN (11.5 billion pages) and AOL (6.8 billion pages).

Yahoo remains the Web's most viewed site, serving up 31.2 billion pages in April, but some analysts believe MySpace's rapid growth foreshadows a changing of the guard.

"The bar keeps getting raised," said Gartner Inc. analyst Mike McGuire.  "I think you are going to see constant tweaking because of sites like MySpace."

Remaining the most trafficked and viewed Web site is important to Yahoo because those measures are critical to the advertisers that provide the company with most of its profits.

As it is, Yahoo's earnings haven't been growing rapidly as Google's — a factor that has weighed on Yahoo's stock price, which has dropped by 21 percent so far this year.  Meanwhile, Google's stock price has declined by 9 percent.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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