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AOL has a plan, which executives at corporate headquarters here describe as one of the biggest strategic shifts in the company's history. It's to move many services once reserved for paying members -- including music, a search engine, video clips and shopping sites -- onto the open Web to attract more visitors and advertisers.
[edited by: tedster at 10:14 am (utc) on April 5, 2005]
But what effect will it have on their webhosting sales? Surely they must know they're going to decline even more when people now know there's even more available for free? I do hope they wish to decrease their sale prices too!
[edited by: cmatcme at 10:02 am (utc) on April 5, 2005]
Also, many feel that an AOL audience is, well, less than savvy shall we say? This factor limits who will buy ads on AOL, and I'm sure that bringing in a more general web audience will also mean bringing in a different kind of advertiser over time.
Should be fun to watch -- and for some, another viable place to advertise that you might not have considered before. Maybe AOL will soon be hiring an SEO or two, eh?
That this revamped approach is needed is an understatement; the question is, will it go far enough to salvage the brand?
I suspect this could be a case of "a day late and a dollar short".
I think AOL should focus on its one remaining jewel -- its IM application -- to recreate itself; much as Apple focused on the iMac and then the iPod.
Otherwise this early giant could go the way of the dinosaur.
Everything they do is average. Same AIM was no1 used IM platform for years, and it's horrible. AIM's a jewel? I dont think so, and top of it all it's not even what it used to be.
And about this big plan, I dont think it's going to work. I dont think I would ever advertise on AOL, well maybe since it's a great opportunity to sell less worthy things for more $$$ Lets say hosting, AOL members would get it for 15$ and original price would be around 3-4$.
About publishing their ads, same thing, prolly minimum click payouts, since their users dont know the actual earning capacity their site has.
AOL is one of the companies you dont want to work for.
Then,they broke the #1 rule in business success. When things began to slide, don't cut back, expand to new horizons. It is the the fastest way, and the most long term successful way to recover from a slump. Of course, that means the business heads must have vision. Otherwise, you create more flops, slide deeper, and contribute to the problem, not the solution.
Having vision is something that may be unlikely if the business is failing to begin with. Unless the problem was due to unexpected outside forces,that were totally unpredictable (911). Vision, and quick vision at that can turn around slide, even a huge one in that case.
In the case of AOL, I have never seen any vision there. I have seen a slow and gradual slide, that resulted from lack of vision. This could be too little to late for them, and they will just continue to slide in share of market.
Also, many feel that an AOL audience is, well, less than savvy shall we say
That depends on how you look at it. AOL members are average web surfers. They might not know as much as us webmasters, but that does not mean they are not savvy - they probably know a lot more about the real-world than web-nerds like all of us on here do - which is much more essential to daily life!
Now, if they are less savvy, what does that mean? Does that mean they are unable to distinguish between real content and some ads? Does it mean they are unable to complete online orders?
I bet that a lot of AOL users are the kind that just go online to look up stuff, then find a product at the lowest price and buy it, with a little tinkering with their browser and screen resolution as possible. If you look at it from that angle, then it could be a very nice pool of potential consumers from an advertisers prospective, since they aren't there to mess around with their computers - they're just interested in buying stuff.
That said, I still feel the AOL has drifted too far downstream to row back up again, particular considering how stong the current is (competition).
I have worked with thousands of AOL users, and I think I can say without a doubt, as a whole, they are some of the least capable people on the face of the planet. Those who have a brain in their head, usually leave AOL after the first year.
While AOL is perfect for those who can not figure out how to click a link or respond to an email, it is without a doubt the worst system on the web. They are the reason the web has to be extremely user friendly.. we have to hit them over the head to get them to read or click if we design for their portion of society. They have the worst email system in the world, and have to be 90% of the root of the problem, when it comes to misunderstandings in email. Try to explain that to them, and you will need more time than any of us webmasters have to spend.
Overall, comprehension is very low within the AOL user group.
The good news is the system likes to keep them within the boundaries of AOL, and that is good news for the rest of us.
Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but I am talking as a whole.
There was a time, when we provided design work that I actually refused to work with any client who used AOL. It was in our TOS. Way too many problems with those people, very hard to teach, save a few bright bulbs... those I was able to convince in the first phone conversation that AOL was a cesspool, and they left, went on to learn, and have successful online businesses now. They are rare.
To this day, I see an AOL email address coming from my contact forms, instant delete. I don't waste my time on them anymore. This post might make them scream, but I can assure you, right now, I will not respond to it. There would be no point. I learned that long ago.
Sure, they might email and ask a few question before they buy, but that was generally all.
That very site dropped greatly in Google, traffic dropped from Google by about 80% (all others remained the same) - but you know what - sales didn't drop proportionately - not even close.
After researching the trend on a few other sites that I am influence over, AOL & MSN provided a very significant portion of sales, where as Google traffic was much greater, yet sales referenced to traffic were not in proportion to those other engines. These results were relatively consistent across about 10 sites selling completely unrelated items.
Deductive logic: AOL's & MSN's users are more interested in buying things than just surfing. Thus, AOL users, on average, are more profitable to have. We're saving more on bandwidth because we don't have the Google surfers, and being dropped wasn't nearly as catastophic as initially presumed.
In summary: Users from AOL convert better and therefore should warrant more time and money in terms of advertising! MSN converts even better than AOL though.
Also, I did say that they were not as informed as webmasters, so if you were trying to work with them on website design then I can see your point - but that's not really what we're talking about here. If you needed to explain to your users how to identify hyperlinks and other such stuff when you are only trying to sell to them online, then obviously your website(s) were not very usable to non-techie people, and given that the vast majority of internet users are non-techie, then that was almost certainly your downfall.
If you can't make the process of buying simple, then you miss about 75% of your potential consumers. That was likely your problem.
To this day, I see an AOL email address coming from my contact forms, instant delete.
In one case, an AOLer ordered from three different sites I owned. We had delivery confirmation on every one, signed. Within a week of delievery of this mass of orders, she filed claims with us, saying she didn't get the packages. I think the level of stupidity with that customer alone says something. It was not just her, but many, many instances. We don't just shut out a sector of society, due to our 'ignorance'. I have been at this online for 13 years, and for 11 years we had addresses that problem.
They didn't read the terms, couldn't read descriptions, (oh gee didn't know I was going to get red, even though the image was red, description said red, shopping cart said red... )and this problem goes way back to the days we sold on ebay as well ...where we began to notice the aol trend.
I don't know what you are selling with such high success rate to aolers, but obviously it wasn't the hundreds of product lines, both new and used, we sold. Ignorant? No. Smart yes. When your losses come from a specific cross section of society, you either shut them out, or move to a more profitable location. I think the decay of many inner cities, and destruction of their retail base, and subsequent exodus of the retailers, is proof that my thinking is not IGNORANT, only realistic. You can not run a business, when a few customers, who contribute very little to your revenue, take up 80% of your timea nd resources. We are not here to make nice. We are here to make money, and hope to be nice doing it. But, making money is first unless you are living free of charge on planet earth.
If it works for you, fine. But, suffice it to say it has not worked for me, nor any of my ecommerce tech support clients. I am not alone in finding this problem, or addressing it by cutting off the AOLers.
We just delete their emails unread. You think that is ignorant? Try reading the paragraph right directly above our contact submission form. We placed that paragraph there, because apparently AOL users thought we were a manufacturer. We thought it was more than obvious from our site we were not a manufacturer. But, obviously, if you are an AOLer, it is not. So, we beefed up the wording on the contact page, to clearly outline what we do, and what we do not do. It says:
1. We do NOT ....
2. We do NOT ....
3. We do NOT ....
4. We do NOT ....
5. We do Not ....
Yet, every email from an AOLer requests one or more of those five things. Rude on our behalf? You bet. If they can't read those instructions, and ask me for what I already said I do not have, or do not do, why would I want to do business with them? Would you do business with them? I hope you are saying "no" right now. So, we thought we were being nice, by saving them time, and telling them up front, don't waste your time filling out this form if you are doing so for one of these 5 reasons. Seems nice to me.
If I were hiring, and I am not, and #5 instruction on the contact form says I am not, why would I hire an employee, like the one who submitted a resume yesterday, an AOLer, who can not even read the paragraph above the contact submission form, that says:
"We do not respond to resumes sent from people wanting to work for us. We are not hiring, and we do not accept resumes. We delete them unread."
This is an ongoing example of what we put up with from the aol user base. Could I have been more clear? Is it just me? lol. Oh yes. lol. Please...
When you see numbers like 95%-100% of bad apples in a bunch, I think common sense tells you to throw out the entire truckload, and don't buy from that supplier again. So, we cut off the AOL truckloads.
I was an aoler once, for about a month, 13 years ago, at 10 cents a minute. That alone was clue to me that aol was not for me, and would hinder my knowledge. It was obvious back then that AOL was nothing more than a social cesspool. Had somebody shut me out back then, I would have deserved it.
I guess you don't need vision, when your user base is full of people who have no idea what 'vision' is. If aol wants a plan for success, they need to completely rework their marketing plan, and cater to savy users, which are on the increase as the internet grows, and users learn. The day will come when there are no internet newbies, for aol to prey on.
My 2 cents:
While you are opening up your content, you might want to open up your email filters and stop banning addresses just because they are with the same hosting company as someone who had their email address spoofed.
I doubt if AOL users would be too happy if they found out the reason why no one replies to their emails.
1) I think AOL is doing all of this late in the game, and it is not going to help them, as the more savvy people such as ourselves are always the first to tell people not to use AOL. If you are like me, when a friend is looking for an ISP, you tell them to use almost anyone over AOL, even the old free NetZero is better.
2) A customer is a customer. As long as the credit card goes through with minimal charge backs I'd target all of them. You never can tell if that is someone who just didn't have a friend like us to consult them on their ISP choice, but you can't fault them all because of the ease of popping in the cd-rom that they got in the mail that most of us would call a 'drink coaster.'