Media

The new “AOL Way”: It’s all about the numbers

aol tim armstrongThis is what you get when a former Google executive runs a media company.

Business Insider has published a leaked copy of what it said is AOL’s new “master plan,” a presentation outlining the company’s goals and processes for the next few months. What comes across is an intense focus on numbers. And hey, that makes sense for a business document, but there is something both beautiful and scary about the way AOL is trying to streamline its entire “content generation” process (or, as I like to call it, “writing and editing”) for maximum profitability.

So what are AOL’s goals? Basically, to turn every blog post into a serious moneymaker. Specifically, by the end of March, AOL aims to increase the total number of articles published each month from 31,500 to 40,000, and to grow the median number of pageviews per article from 1,500 to 7,000. Meanwhile, the average cost of creating an article should fall from $99 to $84, and the profit margin on each article should increase from 35 percent to 50 percent.

When deciding what topic to cover, the AOL Way apparently involves weighing issues like traffic potential, revenue/profit, turnaround time, and editorial quality. Again, these are considerations that any for-profit publication is probably weighing, but what’s impressive is how specific AOL’s guidelines are — for example, there’s a “Demand Tool” that might, for example, predict that an article will earn $500, so under AOL’s guidelines a website can spend up to $250 for that piece of content.

The document also mentions a new “SEO Checker” that is supposed to be used on virtually all of AOL’s content, giving writers and editors guidelines on how to customize their articles to show up prominently in search engines.

AOL, of course, is in the middle of what is hopefully a turnaround. Tim Armstrong (pictured), formerly an executive at Google (a company famous for its focus on quantifying everything), took over as CEO about two years ago and led the company in a spinoff from Time Warner. Last November, Armstrong reported earnings that beat analyst estimates for the first time, although ad revenue was still down. (AOL will release its next earnings report tomorrow.) On the tech side, AOL’s properties include Engadget and TechCrunch.

Business Insider reports that some of AOL’s writers and editors commented positively on the changes, while another declared, “AOL is the most fucked up, bullshit company on Earth.”

Not surprisingly, this document has provoked a lot of comments from the VentureBeat editorial team. A couple of writers are dancing a happy dance that we’re not working at AOL or an organization with similarly straitlaced guidelines. But my boss Owen Thomas reports that he’s taking copious notes.