Thursday 22nd November 2018

‘Old’ brand, ‘new’ methods – About.com in 2018

by on 28th January 2018

If you can remember dial up modems, you’ll almost certainly remember About.com.

It was founded nearly 21 years ago, it was the internet’s jack-of-all-trades and its strategy was simple: be about everything.

If there was a question you wanted answered, about.com wanted to be there to answer it for you. That’s what was so great about About (see what we did there?).

As recently as 2014, it was, according to comScore, the 16th most popular website on the internet and attracted over 60 million unique visitors per month. Google and Yahoo! reportedly tried to buy it and the New York Times did buy it (in 2005 for $410 million).

However, here’s the quiet revelation: about isn’t about anything anymore.

It shut-up shop and with little to no fanfare. One of the internet’s longest standing portals, a nostalgic blast from the past, is, since early last year, no more.

I doubt you noticed – at least not consciously. However, if you’re still the type of person who relies on Google to answer every inane question which pops into your brain, then you’ll almost certainly be familiar with the new About – Dotdash.

The new About – why did they do it?

Dotdash isn’t a single portal, but six. Rather than the hodgepodge approach of filling a website with answers to questions across hundreds of topics, About.com was split into 6 separate verticals: The Balance (personal finance), Lifewire (consumer electronics), The Spruce (home and food), TripSavvy (travel), VeryWell (health) and ThoughtCo (education).

About.com was still profitable, so what prompted the transition?

In an interview with Wired, CEO Neil Vogel communicated his realisation: “We confused Google, because you just can’t be an expert in diabetes and how to stain a floor.”

While About still commanded significant visibility in search, it came to the same conclusion many other digital brands come to after attempting to exploit the ‘infinite market possibilities’ of the internet: you can’t do everything.

To this day, small business owners entering the digital space, sold on endless possibilities before practical realities, over-extend themselves. It’s not one social profile, it’s twelve; it’s not one instant messaging platform, it’s all of them; it’s not the next page of content but the 100 pages of content after it.

The greatest advantage of the internet is it can offer low barriers to entry and free access to endless markets. Then again, the greatest disadvantage to the internet is it can offer low barriers to entry and free access to endless markets.

It’s all too easy to get lost in a loop of ‘what ifs’; it’s all too easy to focus on what you’re not doing ahead of what you are doing.

How are they getting on?

It’s difficult to say – we don’t have access to Dotdash’s internal analytics – however data from Searchmetrics shows the migration, and the increased focus on a subset of topics, appears to be working.

SimilarWeb’s data also paints a positive picture.

In his interview with Wired.com, Vogel outlines that traffic to About’s health section peaked at 12 million per month before the migration, however traffic to VeryWell post-migration stands at 17 million.

It’s difficult to predict what the future holds for purely informational websites with little to no monetisation strategy beyond advertising revenues, particularly with the advent of ad blocking.

Despite this, one thing is clear: in a world full of grand proclamations about global currencies and the advent of IA, human beings still crave simple answers to simple questions, and Dotdash is going to do everything it can to answer them.