AOL Retools Black Voices With Users, Advertisers In Mind

AOL is unveiling a new look, streamlining navigation and adding more editorial content to its Black Voices property--the latest step in the continuing revamp of the Web giant's entire brand. This is the first major upgrade to Black Voices since 2005.

Backed by insight from visitor surveys, Web analytics and data from its 2007 African American Cyber Study, the company decided to tweak the navigation scheme. The new system, which debuts today, Dec. 3, makes it easier for users to access content, post comments and subscribe to RSS feeds with one click. In addition, they retooled the logo and changed graphic formatting to "open up the site and make it feel less cluttered," says Tariq Muhammad, AOL's director of Black Voices.

Site designers also worked to better integrate community-facing features like message boards and comment streams into the editorial content. And AOL has pumped up the amount of news, blog and video available on Black Voices, supplementing breaking entertainment coverage from the BV Entertainment Newswire and BV Buzz sections, with news analysis and lifestyle coverage via the new Black Spin blog.

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According to Muhammad, the changes make it easier for users to interact with each other and the content--and increase the opportunities for advertisers to build brand affinity through sponsorship and advertorials. "The new design fosters free-form commenting and the exchange of ideas for our users," Muhammad says. "But it also allows Black Voices to better leverage the expertise of marketing partners to provide some of the site's utility and go beyond just buying a banner ad."

Muhammad suggests that a pharmaceutical company could serve as an expert source for a health-focused blog, or an auto manufacturer sponsoring seasonal car maintenance tips as possible scenarios. Black Voices also offers banner inventory and video pre-rolls, as well as the option to sponsor or skin entire sections of the site. Inventory is available both as part of run-of-network buys on AOL, as well as niche-specific packages and stand-alones.

Site visitors skew slightly female (50-60%), with the core user between the ages of 23 and 35. In October, users averaged 40 minutes per month on Black Voices--and total unique visitors grew by 65% to reach 4.3 million. The site nearly doubled its lead over Viacom's BET.com (the nearest competitor), and was the only Top 5 site in the African-American category that didn't drop in page views, per comScore.

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