“I’m not going to be the guy who ruined About.com,” About.com CEO Neil Vogel told Business Insider. “It’s already ruined, so this is all upside here.”
Vogel was referring to his plans to retire the About.com brand next week, on May 2. About.com is one of the most venerable Internet properties out there, over two decades old and still one of the top 100 by traffic. The content will live on, but across several different verticals, none of which will carry the About.com name. About.com is dead; long live About.com.
Shutting down that brand might have the ring of failure, but it turns out it’s a pretty remarkable turnaround story. I’ve been lucky enough to see that turnaround up close.
A few years ago, Google’s algorithm started treating the general-interest site as a content farm, and the site’s search ranking plummeted. At the same time, advertisers were backing out, preferring more targeted sites over About.com (WebMD, for example, instead of About.com’s Health section). Fortunes were not looking good.
In early 2016, Big Medium teamed up with About.com to create new vertical brands out of About.com content. We crafted the brands, designed the sites, and helped revamp the company’s design process. Over the past year, we designed three verticals and advised on the branding for a fourth. These verticals took About.com’s enormous library of how-to content, dusted it off, and wrapped it in premium, branded sites.
The first one was Verywell, a health vertical:
Health is our most valuable, most-trafficked, biggest vertical, so we came up with an idea. Our content is very much in the style of like WebMD or Everyday Health. But we thought those sites, we just didn’t think they have served a market need. We thought that we could make a beautiful, kinder, gentler health site. You go to these some of other sites with a headache, you think you have a brain tumor. You come to us with a headache, we’re going to make your headache feel better and explain why you had a headache and make it better. That was the thesis.
So we took our 100,000 pieces of health content of About.com, threw 50,000 in the garbage because they were old. We didn’t like them. The other 50 [thousand] were read by our writers. If it was medical information; it was read by a doctor. We had 30,000 pieces of content read by physicians, edited, cleaned up. Built a brand-new site from scratch, a new taxonomy for our content, put it on the site.
We did that. We built this beautiful new site from scratch, everything from scratch.
Together we created the new brand, cleaned up the information architecture, and importantly got rid of a ton of cheap advertising. With fewer ads per page and a new premium brand, traffic skyrocketed and revenue soared.
I think we had 8 million uniques when we started a month, I think we have 17 million uniques now to Very Well. So we’ve pretty much doubled in size in 12 months. We’re by far the fastest-growing thing in the health space. I think we’re No. 4 or 5 on comScore on health because our bet was right …
We knew that this would work. Then we launched something in the summer. Ran a very similar playbook on our personal-finance content called The Balance, which has pretty much doubled in traffic since we launched it this summer. We launched something called Lifewire in November, which is our evergreen-content tech site — how to fix my router, how to unbrick my iPhone. We launched three weeks ago, about a month ago something called The Spruce, which is the third-biggest home site on the internet, only behind HGTV and the Hearst Brands. We had such scale on About, that we’re launching these new brands into the world that are new to the space with no legacy issues, look like start ups, but all of a sudden, like we’re top 10 in comScore because we’re coming with such scale. The market’s like, "What? Where did you guys come from?"
It was a treat to work with the whole crew at About.com. There’s a lot of experience under that roof, and it’s been amazing to help release so much pent-up potential.
Vogel says that the About.com name will finally be retired next week to be replaced with a new brand name.