Yahoo Inc. embarks on a critical overhaul to its search engine this week, although few users will probably notice.

The changes Yahoo plans are to the advertisements that appear next to search results, a lucrative business it has failed to fully capitalize on.

For Yahoo, the initiative, dubbed Panama, is key to reviving its financial fortunes, which have lagged far behind Google. For every search, Yahoo earns half as much money as its rival, according to analyst estimates.

In effect, Yahoo has left hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue on the table, with major repercussions.

Yahoo's profit growth has slowed, raising skepticism among investors. Shares of the company have declined 50 percent in a little more than a year.

To get the company back on track, Yahoo Chief Executive Terry Semel initiated a broad reorganization two months ago that resulted in the resignations of several top executives.

Success with the highly anticipated project, or lack thereof, could determine Yahoo's fortunes for years. The stakes are enormous.

"Potentially, Google is finally going to get some meaningful competition," said Sasa Zorovic, an analyst for Oppenheimer & Co., before noting the serious damage to Yahoo if it releases a flop.

Get the full story at the Seattle-Post-Intelligencer