AOL Clarifies What Seed Could Mean for Advertisers

AOL’s Seed content platform has only just started sprouting, but the firm has already begun sharing data derived through the system with advertisers. The firm hopes to attract more advertisers and more of their money by helping them apply that data to their campaign planning.

“We’re providing more data and insights into consumer behavior online and the ability to almost source trends when they’re happening,” said Jeff Levick, AOL’s president of global advertising and strategy. He told ClickZ News yesterday that the company is working directly with its “top advertiser partners” to determine how best to employ the data, and “talking with agencies about creative ways to use it.” At this point, however, the company is having a hard time convincing advertisers to discuss it in public.

Levick said the data is derived through the system’s algorithm, which measures consumer interest in content topics using a variety of sources including — but not limited to — searches. “It’s almost like an index of trends.” The company is assembling a pool of freelance article and multimedia contributors for the Seed project, currently in its very early stages.

Aggregating data to assist advertisers is nothing new. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has said she believes Yahoo could enable smarter ad targeting if demographic and other data were applied in new ways. Yet, AOL intends to employ its data on both ends — to inform content creation and advertiser campaigns.

Today, the Seed system has a wide variety of “recommended assignments” for contributors including several assignments for photos of holiday window displays in specific cities like New Orleans and Oklahoma City. Other jobs involve writing a 500-word “Guide to catholic wedding planning resources” including the keyword “catholic wedding resources,” and “a brief, fun description of what to look for in lingerie for a romantic weekend getaway” that links to AOL’s holiday site Holidash and features the words “lingerie, panties, bra, valentine’s day.” Each of those assignments pays $30. Many article assignments suggest that writers, “Use embedded links where appropriate, with preference for links to relevant AOL properties.”

In addition to asking its writers to include popular keywords, derived through the system, in their stories, “that same information is being made available to advertisers we’re working with,” said Levick. Now, he suggested, advertisers can tie ad copy and keyword strategy to article keywords using real-time information. Ultimately, AOL aims to help advertisers be more relevant to its content.

How AOL will monetize the Seed content — which will supplement content from its in-house editorial staff — is the big question. While the company aims to sell content associated with particular subjects direct to advertisers, some, such as timelier, news-driven content, will probably not be sold direct. “It has to be in a way that moves quickly, and that’s where it would have to be a more automated solution where technology matches the advertisers to the content,” he said.

Potentially, by steering content and advertising in the same direction, AOL hopes the system builds bigger audiences around more targeted content areas.

Although some content provided by Seed contributors will be used to augment other editorial content featured in sponsored sections on AOL, Levick stressed the system will not be used to create advertorial content.

“This is a sourcing platform. All the information and all the articles that come through Seed are still reviewed by actual editors and actual people,” he said. “This is a way for advertisers to say, ‘If you build this content I would like to advertise around it.'”

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