Awesome domain name? Check. A content guy at the helm? Check. A solid strategy? Very questionable.
That's AOL's new Love.com for you.
It's not, as you might expect, a dating website. AOL tried that originally in partnership with Match.com. Instead, AOL has turned Love.com into a content destination for all of "the topics you love under one big roof".
Currently, there are over 350,000 of those topics, ranging from entertainment to sports to news, and without much press, Love.com is generating 100,000 visitors a week. Is this the sign of things to come from AOL's MediaGlow division, which is building content destinations that are somewhat detached from the AOL brand?
Let's hope not.
The first thing you'll notice is that Love.com's content isn't original. As Aaron Wall of seobook.com describes it:
Love.com is a mashup of remixed twitter posts, youtube videos, aggressive 3rd party content snippets, automated cross linking, frame-jacked 3rd party content, pop-ups, automated subdomain spam, all pushed on a purchased domain name that had existing links.
If you take a quick look around, it's hard not to disagree. All of the content on the Love.com homepage is 'aggregated' from other websites. AOL links to this content using its own URLs at t.love.com, which frames third party websites with a Love.com header. Not endearing.
AOL has set up subdomains for topics that are clearly designed for SEO purposes. A search for Manchester United, for instance, will lead you to http://manchester-united.love.com/, which again aggregates content from blogs, newspaper websites, Twitter and YouTube. There are also ads for Manchester United-related products from PriceGrabber.
What to make of this? Wall quotes SEO expert Jeremy Luebke, who reportedly stated, "This stuff make Mahalo look like the best site on the net." I have discussed Mahalo's tactics in the past.
So why would Bill Wilson, MediaGlow's president who joined AOL from BMG Entertainment, where he was SVP for Worldwide Marketing, take this approach? Wall has the answer: there's little risk for brands to engage in behavior that has otherwise been the domain of the shadiest SEOs. Google has apparently decided to give brands an inherent level of trust and instead of giving Google a good reason to justify that, some brands, like AOL, are taking advantage of it to create sites that would otherwise almost certainly fail to rank.
Why should AOL produce original content for Love.com? Why not scrape third party content for every topic under the sun and frame it? Wall states it best:
Google's original strategy with the authority-centric algorithm was a false belief that the emphasis on authority would make the web a deeper and richer experience. New content would need to be better than older established content to outrank it. But as media companies face sharp losses Google is quickly finding out that their authority emphasis is creating a shallower web, where most of the big networks have 2 primary roles: create garbage and recycle garbage.
Of course, AOL sees things differently. AOL employee Frank Gruber describes Love.com in more glowing terms:
Looking to create the perfect page for whatever you love, Love.com aggregates items from a few different sources. In performing a search for Chicago Cubs and love.com pulled in basic news stories, YouTube videos, images, relates websites, Twitter messages and related items for sale. The news stories are pulled real-time via Relegence, a company that AOL acquired in November 2006. Love.com is built on top of the blogging platform Blogsmith, the same platform that powers a number of popular weblogs, with the ability to spin off infinite sub-domains based on the popularity of a topic. Since MediaGlow has a number of popular content properties, Love.com can help recirculate their content through these infinite topical blog pages via search engines.
There's no mention of other publishers' content but I'm sure the excuse is the same: AOL is 'recirculating' their content for them. Linking (in any form) is loving, right?
There is something to love about Love.com though: if major online brands like AOL are going to throw in the towel on producing quality original content, there are plenty of smaller publishers who can fill the gap. While nobody is going to pretend that the original content business is tough these days, when brands like AOL take the easy way out and build SEO traps instead of original content, it creates more opportunity for smaller players who aren't so easily deterred.
Photo credit: CarbonNYC via Flickr.