CHICAGO — Nine months after New York Times Co. bought the service for $410 million, About.com is ready to explain to advertisers the virtues of sitting alongside 57,000 topics and a library of 1.2 million pieces of content.
The site, a high flier in the dot-com heyday, is almost under the radar today. But market researcher Nielsen//NetRatings said About.com drew 29 million unique users nationally and 47 million worldwide in October.
“We're probably the biggest site that is least known in terms of what we can deliver to advertisers,” said Scott B. Meyer, president/CEO of New York-based About.com and a speaker at this week's Search Engine Strategies show.
Major advertisers have more than nodding familiarity with About.com, however. In their ranks are the U.S. Army, State Farm, General Mills, Sara Lee and SBC, which becomes at&t later this month. Then there's Walmart.com, the No. 1 advertiser on About.com.
“Wal-Mart is trying to be trend-forwarding, and online is where they're beginning,” said Mark W. Westlake, senior vice president of sales and marketing at About.com.
That positioning is paying off. Walmart.com is one of the top-three-shopped retail sites online after eBay and Amazon. Market monitors like Nielsen//NetRatings, Hitwise and comScore Networks confirm its growing clout.
About.com created a yearlong partnership for Walmart.com that includes integrated placements within sites in channels like parenting, entertainment, electronics and gadgets. Users now can click on such content and go directly to www.walmart.com and buy photos and music downloads. Walmart.com's media buy also covers roadblocks on pages and rich media units using Pointroll technology. About.com facilitated the retailer's new monthlong ad home page and site campaign on www.nytimes.com.
“Retail's a big growth area for us,” Meyer said.
The contextual approach and About.com's search-find-obtain formula entice not just Walmart.com but also advertisers like Best Buy Co., Sears and Target.
“It's about relevancy,” Westlake said. “We provide relevancy for advertisers at scale.”
What makes About.com especially different, now as well as before and under previous owner Primedia, is its personal attention to information. The company's content is produced by 500 guides — experts who run vertical sites within About.com for a CPM fee based on the page-view traffic they attract. Of course, these independent contractors follow church/state separation guidelines monitored by About.com.
“Their job is to create a 360-degree view of whatever subject they're covering,” Meyer said.
This depth of original content attracted the Times to acquire About.com. Another reason was revenue diversification. Almost half of About.com's revenue comes from Google's contextual search AdSense program. By contrast, the Times' online revenue is generated mainly from display ads and classifieds in addition to its own AdSense partnership with Google.
“We're one of Google's largest AdSense partners,” Westlake said. “[The Times'] cost-per-click revenue is very small, and for us it's half the business.”
About.com has another charm. Its guides are experts at search engine optimization. The content they generate is found on engines, which means search referral traffic is huge. While a typical news site gets 40 percent to 60 percent of its traffic on its home page, About.com receives 80 percent of its traffic through search engines, Meyer said. Less than 5 percent comes through About.com's home page.
“Bringing that expertise has provided a significant opportunity to become better optimized at search” for the Times, Meyer said.
About.com's editors write mostly for Jane About: the affluent soccer mom seeking information either on life-changing events like marriage or babies or about food and other everyday issues. But they also keep in mind John About: regular guys stumped for information.
Meyer, who held senior positions at the Times' Boston Globe newspaper and nytimes.com site, has a five-prong plan.
First, improve About.com's content and quality. He already has tripled the inhouse content monitoring staff from four to 12 and will add three more by year's end. Jeff Jarvis, a consultant, also was hired for two days a week to help with blog strategy. Second, Meyer intends to reintroduce the About.com brand to trade press and agency media planners. The goal is to ensure that his site is in the consideration set, especially with media planners making ad decisions for advertising clients.
Third, About.com will undergo a redesign to improve the user experience online. Fourth, Meyer wants to grow revenue from deals, including those packaged like Walmart.com's. Finally, About.com will help New York Times Co. online properties like nytimes.com and the site at www.boston.com, which is home to the Boston Globe newspaper. The role is supportive.
For example, all the Times sites will share a common ad inventory management platform next year that sits on top of the ad server. About.com built that platform. In another measure, nytimes.com video placed on About.com is said to have increased traffic on the Times' site.
“We're building a brand,” Westlake said. “They're extending their brand.”
Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters