AOL Investing in Self-Serve Ad Tools

  |  July 20, 2009   |  Comments

Tim Armstrong co-opts a mainstay of Google's ad menu, as he wraps up his first 100 days as CEO.

AOL is developing new self-serve campaign tools in a bid to scale its ad network business, CEO Tim Armstrong told ClickZ News on Friday.

The new automated tools are meant to help the company increase the number of advertisers and campaigns running on They'll be aimed at the same small and mid-sized advertisers that have fueled Google's growth.

" can support a higher number and scale of ad campaigns than it currently does," he said. "One of the segments we're very light on is the self-service area and that's an area we're investing in."

In addition to offering self-serve tools, AOL hopes to drive more campaign activity by improving its measurement capabilities and simplifying its ad products.

"Our sales team has somewhere between 100 and 150 different things they could sell right now: different targeting types and all kinds of products and services," he said. "Is that the right amount of things that can be sold? We've been leaning toward the idea that less might be more impactful."

Armstrong did not offer an indication about which ad products or services might be cut or folded into the central brand. Possibilities include research arm ADlytics, behavioral targeting unit Tacoda, video ad network LightningCast, or the Third Screen Media mobile ad network.

AOL already offers some self-serve ad products, including banner ad placement service BidPlace, retargeting service LeadBack, and text ad network Quigo. For instance using Quigo, the company's text-based contextual ad network, ad buyers can distribute campaigns across other parts of AOL's Platform-A family of ad networks. And BidPlace is a self-service banner ad solution.

Armstrong says the company can do better. "There's an ability to build more products that have a higher degree of self service than we offer today," he said. aside, Armstrong said advertisers are eager to see AOL improve its own brands. According to internally conducted studies, he said AOL was described by agencies as a trusted partner that does a good job of servicing and educating clients. But he said there is "room for improvement" when it comes to how the company's products are perceived by agencies as well as consumers.

"They are expecting us and want us to continue to improve the AOL brand," he said.

Scaling its advertising business is just one part of a five-prong realignment strategy at AOL, where the loss of major ad contracts and downward pressure on display ad prices have wreaked almost as much havoc as the company's steadily failing Internet access business.

Other prongs include improving and the company's other owned and operated properties; the expansion of its local and mapping services; investment in e-mail, AOL Instant Messenger, and other communication services; and the cultivation of technology innovation through a new AOL Ventures unit.

"AOL Ventures [will house] assets within AOL that have struggled where the synergies haven't materialized," Armstrong said. It will also serve as a vehicle to make investments in startups outside the company. AOL-owned Social network Bebo and video search outfit Truveo are now housed in the Ventures unit.

As part of its renewed focus on quality for its in-house properties, AOL has recently begun to reduce the number of ads on some of its pages and services. For instance, the company slashed the number of ads on its homepage, from around six to two. Mapquest has also seen the removal of several types of ads; as much as 60 percent of ad placements have been removed from some pages, Armstrong said.

"We're trying to focus on product performance," he said. Part of improvement is a trend toward having less overall advertisements but more impactful ads."

Armstrong's 100th day on the job came last Wednesday, July 15.

Kate Kaye contributed to this article.

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Zachary Rodgers

Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects. 

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