What if you write something and nobody reads it? Or produce a video and nobody watches? If it’s your money being spent to produce the media you lose money. And if it’s AOL’s money on the line they lose . . . an amazing amount of money. And that’s where AOL is headed.

It was way back in October 2009 that I pointed out the flaw in AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s plans to revive AOL. Now, some internal AOL documents have been leaked and the proof is in our faces: AOL cannot possibly make money using Tim Armstrong’s plan.

Here’s “The AOL way“. It simply makes no sense. The numbers aren’t possible/ Tim Armstrong is dreaming. A few highlights:

  • AOL Editors currently produce 33,000 articles each month. Armstrong wants that number ramped up to 55,000, and soon
  • The average AOL story attracts 1,500 readers. Armstrong wants 7,000
  • And my favorite: Tim Armstrong wants the percentage of AOL-produced stories optimized for search engines to reach 95%

Let’s dissect this stuff:

First, look at the statement Armstrong has made about tweaking most of AOL’s work for search engine optimization. Tim’s validated something I’ve been saying for quite a while: Search Engine Optimization Matters. I’ll throw the pitch in here: The Answer Guy does the some of best Search Engine Optimization work you’ll find anywhere. Hire us. Or somebody.  This stuff is important.

Why does SEO matter? Because whether you’re a small business trying to attract new customers, an AOL-sized media company selling advertising, or pretty much anyone in between, you can’t get enough attention for your web site unless you’ve applied search engine optimization techniques. In Tim Armstrong and AOL’s case, the idea is that after the members of his already-overworked “editorial staff” have turned out 55,000 articles per month they need to apply SEO techniques. Great. Speaking as both an SEO Consultant and as a writer with a couple of decades of experience I can tell you that adding SEO to your writing adds about 50% to the time it takes to produce an article.

Now let’s look at the math on the other point: an article that costs $25 to produce—whether AOL is counting value of the time an employee takes to write it or the cost of paying a contractor—requires 7,000 page views to break even. 55,000 articles times 7,000 views is 385 million page views each month for AOL to break even on its content creation efforts. Really? I accept that AOL can generate that much traffic overall, and if they get the occasional runaway hit it will pay for some of the thousands of laggards. But this is “the AOL master plan”? Search Engine Optimization is right!

Listen: AOL isn’t the first big media company to analyze the cost of producing content and start applying formulas. The Washington Post was firing writers whose blogs didn’t attract enough traffic a couple of years ago. But by scaling the numbers to this level, turning out what—let’s face it—can only be garbage when there are 55,000 articles written each month, and then mandating that the articles be search engine optimization friendly, AOL is acknowledging that they don’t care about the quality of their media content.

And producing that content, $25 at a time, is Tim Armstrong’s “master plan”.

Producing Garbage, it seems, is The AOL Way

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