The ship hasn’t sunk — yet. AOL claims that Internet traffic to their Web sites increased 35% (page views), along with 11% growth in unique visitors. However, this begs the meme — O RLY?
AOL Programming (under the wing of Bill Wilson) reports that page views are up considerably, a whopping 35% from a year ago. In addition, unique visitors are up 11 percent. These increases are astounding for any major portal, more like unbelievable, but regardless it shows that Web users are attracted to AOL’s content — for some reason.
Mainly, I deeply question the merit of those claims. From my experience, I always recalled seeing metrics where traffic was always dropping. Unless that was just a cattle prod to produce more content, I would tend to agree with the metrics that AOL content isn’t as hot as it once was.
Here is a fancy (and somewhat accurate) graph of Unique Visitors to AOL’s Web sites:
This graph reflects an 18.7% drop in UVs over a year for AOL.
For those that don’t know, a “Unique Visitor” (UV) is determined as a new visitor who hasn’t been to the site before in a predetermined time. Although subjective, it can help Web site owners know if new visitors are accessing their site. UVs are dependent on users maintaining their cookies, IP address and Web browser [agent]. Scientifically, this statistic is not nearly as bona-fide as say, page views, but should field the question, “Are new people checking us out?”If you want, check out 15 reasons why UVs are questionable (as authored by AOL’s own Web analytics provider, Omniture).
Here is another graph displaying Page Views to AOL’s Web sites:
To the eye, it appears flat to dull progress.
Mathematically, this is a 21.6% drop in page views from a year ago.
Bill Wilson’s claim to fame is to widen the user experience to fit more ads content. A majority of AOL’s programming now fits the 980px wide build, which is great for most users, but leaves users on 8×6 and 10×8 resolutions out in the cold, often scrolling to reach much desired content. Mind you, the AOL user base consists of a majority of late-adopters to technology, who probably don’t know what higher resolution means. In almost all the 980px layouts, they have been strategically designed so two large ads are shown above the fold. I suspect that the reason for any increase of clicks is only because of frustration in finding content.
I don’t know who’s bluffing who. I know that a graph can be used to communicate a variety of scenarios in the business world. I just strongly doubt AOL has unbiased evidence that they’ve gained 35% in traffic. I believe this is AOL’s way of preening their feathers for Yahoo. Seriously though, YHOO wouldn’t really enter into a serious relationship with TWX. (That is, AOL’s just a one-night stand that lasted 12 years.) Web users are ready for better content, better service, better speed and genuinely — a better experience.
[Graphs provided by Compete.com]