Expected at the start of Q2 are a number of changes from the sleeping giant AOL. With over 100mm unique users, though not top internet portal nor media darling, AOL still has some tricks up its sleeve worth your attention (did you know that in Q4 AOL topped MSN on monthly uniques for the first time in a few years?). Their size and the highly female demographic make the network a choice partner for many advertisers.
I don’t have snapshots to share but the changes don’t warrant them.
The first is an addition to the homepage of AOL which will still look simliar to Yahoo! and MSN; the pending enhancement is merely the addition of “Marketplace” links which retailers can acquire to advertise from the homepage for a day (really no different from Yahoo! and MSN placement).
For the first time in years AOL Shopping will not experience a radical redesign though will introduce some welcome improvements. Merchants should be pleased that for the most part, participation with AOL Shopping is business as usual with the familiar ‘Lead Promos,’ ‘featured stores,’ ‘tower ads,’ and unique CPC based ‘Merchandising Ad Units’ dominating the pages. Most unfortunate is that the cumbersome process to submit recommendations for the Merchandising Units remains a burden for partners.
The best enhancements to AOL Shopping manifest in 3 ways:
1. Traffic from the homepage of AOL to Shopping will now be directed to contextually relevant categories. In the past, AOL attempted to build an audience for AOL Shopping by promoting a sale or product category specific event and sending the traffic to the main page of Shopping; a Music promotion would land users on the main page where they would have to click again from there to get into Music. This simple change will ensure customers from AOL’s homepage are sent where they expect to land delivering more qualified traffic into each of the categories. More relevant customers to each advertiser.
2. In what I believe is a first for Comparison Shopping engines, the Tower Ad that owns the right side of Shopping pages will transition from an equal rotation of category partners to a targeted ad unit (with an incremental CPC no doubt applicable to participate). Whether behavioral or demographic targeting will be available is TBD as AOL tests the best experience and performance before releasing a program.
3. I hope you’ve heard of the pending release of an AOL search product. Whiteboxed by Google, the paid search opportunities will be similar to those from the Big 3 yet branded and managed by AOL. Search enhancements will also be made to Shopping search with rumors of the Shopping engine being supported by merchant datafeeds instead of Bizrate/Shopzilla. Expect the feed specs to be as close the industry standard that exists as possible; I’ve heard they have no intention of asking for something unique so it shouldn’t take much to support an AOL feed.
Finally, I’m full of rumors today
It has also been suggested that AOL Search intends to be the first to enable video with advertisers being able to run a commercial spot on brand keywords. I for one am anxious for the new AOL Search product, access to AOL’s audience is nothing to disregard as the ‘AOL keywords’ and ‘Trademark layer’ still drive volume. Moving that volume from 3 terms to thousands means you should revisit your budgets.