AOL delivered its first quarterly earnings report today as an independent company, and among the gloomy figures were some modest growth stats for their blogs and content sites.
Advertising for AOL has a whole dropped 8%, but this was primarily off the back of a big drop in search, AOL subscribers and a drop in international display advertising. Domestic display advertising (of which much would come from AOL Media) rose 1%.
The AOL Media unit, which includes the old Weblogs Inc network and other AOL content sites including AOL.com and AOL News saw a modest increases in traffic. Unique visitors to AOL Media sites in Q4 09 were up 4% to 75 million for the quarter vs 72 million for the same quarter of 2008.
The slow growth in the content parts of the business, while better than going backwards, will cause concern in the market. In past 12 months AOL has tried to reinvent itself as primarily a content player, and has spent time and money launching new sites, while attempting to grow existing properties. 4% isn’t a good figure given their focus on content should have delivered stronger traffic growth.
While AOL doesn’t break out the reasons for the modest growth, we can take an educated guess as to why based on figures previously published by traffic analysts: a significant amount of the traffic to AOL Media came from AOL.com, and traffic there comes from AOL’s subscriber base. That based dropped 27% Q4 09 vs Q4 08, and subsequently the captive referral audience for AOL’s blogs from AOL.com has suffered. In light of the subscriber drop, perhaps 4% growth isn’t as bad as it might seem, but it does show that AOL needs to do more to build external (non AOL.com/ subscriber) traffic to its sites.