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About.com creates The Balance on heels of Verywell success

The Balance launches today

When information giant About.com launched its health-specific site, Verywell, they were looking to make health information more user friendly as a vertical.

“The big health sites are clinical and scary,” said Neil Vogel, about.com CEO, in a The Drum story in May. “Turns out, our content is a little bit more as if your best friend were a doctor, written from the peer point of view — people who really cared about results. That led us into understanding what our brand was. We have content that is friendly.”

Aside from a few hiccups in the initial launch, the IAC-owned company now says the site is healthier than ever, just four months in, which is leading to the launch of a financial site, The Balance, today.

The Balance helps demystify money issues

The Balance isn’t reinventing the wheel for how it imparts information. Thematically, Vogel said that it will look much like Verywell.

“Verywell is really good (health) advice but not clinical — it just explains everything to you so you can understand it in a way that doesn't scare you, but informs well — and the information's impeccably great. Our finance information is actually the same thing. We're not stock tips, we're not teaching you option spread valuation, we're not doing any of that. Our content, it turns out, is just content that helps people learn about finance in five categories: personal finance, investing, careers, something we're calling ‘Money Hacks,’ which is about saving money, and small business advice,” Vogel said.

“The whole idea around The Balance is demystifying money for everybody. You don't have to know the difference between a distribution and a dividend to have your financial house in order and feel really good about it. We took a very different approach than anyone in the marketplace is doing, which, again, will prove to either be really smart or really dumb. Maybe no one's doing it because it doesn't work, or maybe we're onto something. I think what we're doing is taking a lifestyle approach to finance. Most of the big financial sites out there are trying to sign up people for $200,000 brokerage accounts. That's not our objective. I know those aren't going to be our advertisers. We're finance for the 99% and the 1% that doesn't understand the rest of the stuff.”

Bringing The Balance to an already crowded marketplace is a bold move, especially when you’re up against competition like Yahoo Finance, Forbes, CNN Money, Market Watch, the Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, Kiplingers and others. But Vogel says that by scale alone, having a vertical puts them into the game, and he sees The Balance as doing things differently from the other players.

“If you look at (other sites) next to The Balance, you'll think, ‘Oh yeah, this is a totally different experience,’” he said, noting that other sites may seem intimidating to some people, which is a reason some don’t actively move their money, even if it serves them better as an investment and growth strategy.

To stand out, The Balance took some of the key features of the About.com money channel and added career advice and small business advice, in the hopes that it will translate to more users, and, critically, the right users who are, quite possibly, the future of finance.

“When you look at us and do a hardcore demographic breakdown of our users, based on the About.com content we were moving over, we're 60-plus per cent female, and around half Millennial. Which is very, very different than other finance sites,” said Vogel.

Following up on the Verywell success

Speaking about Verywell in a recent interview, Vogel said; “We were 80 per cent super-optimistic going in, 20 per cent terrified. Obviously because when 60, 70 per cent of our traffic comes from search, you never know. We were very sure we built something we felt great about. We said; ‘Okay, we think within six months, worst-case, we'll be back to even,’ meaning we'll have convinced all of the traffic sources, Google, Facebook, Pinterest, that the new brand is as good as the old brand and we'll have done so many better things that we'll be on the path. The thing that worked the best is less than 60 days traffic was back to where it was before we made the switch and now we're probably up 20 to 25 per cent from where we started. It's been a huge victory so far.”

Outshining expectations is a huge win for the company, made even better by the fact that Verywell gives people who are looking for health advice a separate site, so they don’t have to wade through advice about fixing a lamp or zesting a lemon.

“We're incredibly excited,” said Vogel. “You don't want your colitis advice from the same people that try and help you figure out how to paint your kitchen. Once we separated it out and the content is really great, it's been really awesome. It's actually been high end of the range and helped us figure out what the rest of our verticals would be.”

The results certainly don’t lie, and helped build tremendous confidence.

“Traffic from Google is up, traffic from social sources is up. It's a much smaller source, though it's two times from where it started,” noted Vogel. “The most interesting thing, the clearest proof-point that we built a brand that is resonating to people is our own emails — the exact same list, the exact same frequency, the exact same health email. There's four or five of them, when rolled over to the new brand with the cleaned up content and the whole new presentation, we're 75 or 80 per cent up in traffic from our own emails.”

With The Balance, Vogel is especially excited, since he used to be an investment banker before going into the dot com world.

“I don't think I was a very good one or I'd probably still be doing it,” he quipped.

Vogel and company hope that they can continue to corral the “adulting” market with The Balance while ensuring a degree of sustainability from the advertising end of the equation.

“We've taken (the beta site) out and shown it to a number of advertisers that we have relationships with and we're getting a lot of really positive feedback from them. First, because we have a strong female audience and women are incredibly under-served in this marketplace who are making head-of-household decisions,” noted Vogel. “We have a ton of Millennials and a lot of the financial guys are talking about — my new favorite word, which they keep talking about — ‘adulting.’ As people mature — older Millennials, young families having first kids, college and buying a first house and car, maybe a change career — all these things, life stuff, it's not really well-addressed by any of the finance sites out there. We felt putting it all in one place would be something really interesting.”

The next vertical? Coming soon, but here’s a hint

Vogel hopes that The Balance will be a success in the same way that Verywell has been out of the blocks, but that hasn’t stopped the team from looking ahead to the next launch.

“We're going to be doing a tech site next and I think we're going to take the very same approach because the average person doesn't need you to deconstruct and break down the new Samsung phone part by part. They want to know how to use it and if it's cool and if they should buy it or not,” he said.

The new vertical approach, and the fact that they are trying to be a trusted voice for people, translates well to the new wave of search and it connects in a way some other, more niche sites, may not.

“We're trying to be the thing that you use when you have important life decisions about your health, about your money, about your technology, about your home. We're not competing with style content anymore because we can't. I think what we're trying to do is we're trying to take a softer approach to what we call it higher stakes content. A Kardashian picture is not high stakes content, it doesn't matter. You can see that anywhere, you get a picture of Kim Kardashian and what she wore, and who cares,” he stated.

Vogel went on to say that as you go up to higher stakes, you need to know things like what happened if you hurt your knee, or were just diagnosed with an illness you know little about, or you just got a bonus at work and need to know what to do with the money.

“Those are much higher stakes and that's where we want to play,” he said.

Additional reporting by Doug Zanger.

Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle