In 2008, Livestrong — the cancer awareness and survivorship foundation originally created by Lance Armstrong — licensed out its name to SEO-juicing content farm Demand Media. The deal was flush for Armstrong at the time, bringing him hundreds of thousands of shares of stock that were sold for around $4.3 million.
And so for the last four years, there have been two sites bearing the Livestrong name, Livestrong.org and Livestrong.com. They have in common that they are no longer associated with Armstrong; in the wake of the United States Anti-Doping Agency issuing Armstrong a lifetime ban from competition and stripping him of all his titles since 1998, he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong the foundation, also ending his less direct association with Demand, which kept its perpetual license to use the “Livestrong” name.
Livestrong.org is the landing pad for Livestrong the foundation, which raises money for cancer awareness and survivorship (but not research, a cause that many often mistakenly associate with Livestrong). Livestrong.com, on the other hand, is a website in the vein of About.com or Demand Media’s eHow that, through aggressive search engine optimization strategies, attempts to capture people Googling things like “How to lose five pounds in one week.”
Demand’s model depends on its ability to stay ever-so-slightly ahead of Google’s monthly-updated search algorithm, which is designed to prevent search engine optimization from being too effective (in Google’s perfect world, SEO would be impossible). Google is a traffic doping authority of sorts, working constantly to detect and ban unfair search-juicing techniques; as in Armstrong’s heyday, however, the juicers have managed to keep in front.
Last November, Demand Media took steps to distance itself further from Armstrong. “The advertisers did care about the affiliation [to Armstrong],” a source told AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher. “So it was time to say in no uncertain terms to them and shareholders that Lance Armstrong has nothing to do with Demand.” During an earnings call, CEO and co-founder Richard Rosenblatt told investors “our relationship is with the Livestrong Foundation, not with Lance.”
But since the site is less a central destination than set of landing pages for search queries, it has proven immune to the Armstrong fallout. In fact, according to a Demand Media spokesperson, it’s been growing. “In this past year we’ve only seen continued growth in the number of people coming to Livestrong.com,” Kristen Moore, Demand Media’s spokesperson, told BuzzFeed. She says the site is up to 15m unique visitors a month, which is 62% higher than the same time last year — after Armstrong had started making headlines for doping.
As such, the company tone toward Armstrong seems to have softened. Asked if Demand Media had any plans to distance itself further from Armstrong, or to reconsider the Livestrong brand, Moore told BuzzFeed, “we’ll continue to watch the news about Mr. Armstrong closely. However, our first priority is to listen to the consumers.” And the consumers, it seems, don’t mind the headlines a bit.
In other words, Lance Armstrong’s most lasting, visible legacy — one that could survive long after he’s faded into obscurity, and possibly even after Livestrong the foundation, hampered by the disappointment caused by its former chairman, becomes a shell of itself — could be the search results that come up when you search what to do about your hangnail.