AOL and its Content Strategy

AOL turned 25 today, prompting Chief Executive Tim Armstrong to make the rounds with co-founder Steve Case to celebrate the milestone. AOL has a colorful and much chronicled history, which we won’t go into detail here. What is most interesting to this reporter is  not AOL’s  past but rather its plan to pitch itself forward  as a content company just at the point when traditional media — we’re  looking at you newspapers –  are undergoing wrenching operational changes.

All of this is to say that content, especially good local content, is expensive to produce even when the plug has been pulled from the printing presses.

Yet AOL executives believe there is a vein to mine and have been snapping up professional journalists while casting wide nets to capture “citizen reporters” eager to get their names out by covering the goings-on and activities at the neighborhood level. AOL is hiring expensive professionals to complement inexpensive user-generated content tied to search engine optimization. Ad dollars, the company hopes, should follow thanks to its technology platforms that AOL believes can maximize ad revenue.

AOL Chief

When asked about advertising opportunities going forward during an interview today, Armstrong relayed this story –days after upbeat broadcast executives unveiled their prime time programming to advertisers known as the upfronts.

Armstrong had met with one of of the top 20 advertisers in the world last week and said,  “This was the first year that they have actually planned digital before they did their TV upfronts. I think that is a trend happening in the industry. … [The] industry analysis is probably undercounting the fact that you are seeing fundamental shifts that people are starting to plan digital before they plan the TV upfronts. My guess is there will be more and more pressure in that direction going forward.”

Actually, Yahoo is not spending another $85 million on ads

The news that Yahoo is spending $75 million to $85 million on an ad blitz has provoked a wave of disparagement in the blogosphere, with many critics slamming Yahoo for throwing more money away on an ineffective marketing strategy.

But much of the outcry appears to stem from a misunderstanding.

YahooBannerThe $75 million to $85 million in advertising is actually part of the $100 million campaign that Yahoo announced in September; It does not represent an additional $75 million to $85 million in ad spending.

A Yahoo spokesperson confirmed that Yahoo has only spent between $15 million and $25 million on the “It’s You” ad campaign since it was rolled out in September, with the remainder of the $100 million budgeted for the new ads, which represent phase two of the campaign.

Google’s Facelift: Meet the new “nav-bar”

Google’s Web search engine is getting a bit of a facelift.

The company said on Wednesday that Web surfers will begin to see a new column of tools running down the left side of all their search results, as well as a slightly new look for Google’s famous multicolor logo (the shadows on the Google logo will be less pronounced).

The logo redesign probably won’t excite anyone but the most obsessive corporate branding wonks, but the new left-hand navigation bar represents Google’s latest effort to evolve its search engine to the changing nature of the Web and the competition.

GOOGNAVBAR Google’s new left-hand tool bar presents a slew of options that allow web surfers to filter their search results according to various categories of information indexed in its massive databases, from blog posts to videos.

Meebo enlists Google, Microsoft in new social networking standard

With social networking services booming, website operators are increasingly looking for ways to make their sites play well in the social world.

Witness the clutter of “share this” buttons on websites urging surfers to share a video or an article with a litany of social networking services that the user may or may not belong to.

xauth2Now Internet chat and toolbar company Meebo is introducing another option that it says will allow websites to custom tailor the experience to each visitor’s personal social networking predilections.

Yahoo concerned about search share slipping (video)

Yahoo’s share of the online search market has been sliding gently since Microsoft introduced its revamped Bing last June. It’s something of a concern for Yahoo, which has teamed up with Microsoft on search advertising in an attempt to rival market leader Google. But it risks becoming an also-ran in the fast-moving business.

During a visit to Yahoo’s Silicon Valley headquarters last week, search chief Shashi Seth admitted to some worries, but said his service can bounce back if it can come up with features to lure new traffic and entice the 600 million customers already using its portal and e-mail service to try its search product as well.

Under the deal with Microsoft, which got regulatory approval last month, Bing provides the basic search results for Yahoo’s search engine, while Yahoo adds on its own features.

Microsoft-Yahoo deal means “Yahoo!” for all: Schneider

hilaryschneider_0034A day after EU regulators cleared Microsoft and Yahoo’s search partnership, Yahoo Americas EVP Hilary Schneider went “Yahoo!” when asked what the alliance means for everyone. “The deal means more money,” Schneider said at the PaidContent 2010 conference in New York on Friday.

With the unified search audiences of Yahoo and Bing, Yahoo’s sales team can do its job better by making the consumer experience more relevant as well as  improving the return on investment for advertisers and publishers, she said. “The more search queries you have in a single marketplace, the more the (search) algorithms can refine themselves… (bringing) more revenue per search for the publisher.”

That’s good news for members of the Yahoo newspaper consortium, Schneider said. Since these dailies are Yahoo’s search partners, the Microsoft-Yahoo alliance increases their returns and revenue as well. She estimated that in 2009, the partnership brought the newspaper industry $100 million in revenue, and “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” But she declined to say how much Yahoo makes from the newspaper consortium.

Microsoft’s Mehdi sees Bing in the black

Microsoft’s Bing search engine hasn’t put a dent in Google’s mastery of the market yet, but executive Yusuf Mehdi thinks it could do so soon, once the search ad partnership with Yahoo is completed.

Bing might even make some money eventually, he suggested in an interview today, once advertisers start to see it as a creditable alternative to Google.

But how long does it have to achieve those goals? Microsoft has lost more than $5 billion in its online business in the last four years. The company keeps saying it is a long-term project, but surely it has to see results soon.

Technology Earnings

Google in China: For most companies, profit trumps human rights

GoogleBy Robert MacMillan

You can find the clearest statement about what’s happening with Google and its threat to quit China over the country’s human rights record in Xinhua, China’s state-run news service – seriously.

“It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows,” an unnamed official told Xinhua. Here’s another comment from the story: “It will not make any difference to the government if Google quits China, however Google will suffer a huge economic loss from leaving the Chinese market.” That’s from Guo Ke, a communications professor at Shanghai International Studies University.

And that’s what you need to know: Google is taking a stand, challenging China to bring its human rights record into line with what it considers its most important tenet: “Don’t be evil.” Now everyone wants to know if other companies also will discover the ethicist inside them and find a purpose more important than making money for shareholders.

Yahoo: We got Tweets too!

If you’re an Internet search engine, having Twitter content adorning your results has become as fashionable as claiming a Tiger Woods liaison seems to be for a certain group of people.

Google and Microsoft both raced to announce deals to incorporate Twitter in their search results within hours of each other in October.

And Yahoo – despite its plan to cease investing in back-end search technology and to outsource the job to Microsoft – does not want to be left out of the action.