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On the verge of a rebrand, About.com launches fourth vertical site

The Spruce is the latest vertical site from About.com

The two-decades-old About.com has been trending away from its catch-all website and launching vertical sites over the last year. With the recent introduction of its home site The Spruce and the upcoming travel site TripSavvy, launching this spring, the original About.com will soon cease to exist.

“We’re renaming the whole company,” said Neil Vogel, chief executive officer of the IAC-owned About.com. “We will no longer be About.com. We’re officially announcing the new name May 2nd at (tech conference) Collision in New Orleans.”

While Vogel and company are ready for a name change, the official name hasn’t been decided on yet. “We’re working on a name. We’re wrestling between a couple,” he said, noting that they will have one soon.

The behemoth site, which features information and advice from experts on numerous topics, from cooking to health, fashion and travel, had been floundering for several years when Vogel and company decided there was a need for a new approach.

“It’s about the story we tell. A year ago we were a general interest site, About.com. We were not growing. In fact, we were kind of shrinking. We had great content, but we were doing the wrong thing,” Vogel said frankly.

His team saw a need to expand their siloed information into discernable brands, giving each segment a well-designed and easy to navigate hub. First came Verywell, a site dedicated to health and wellness, featuring the advice of 100 doctors, pharmacists and dietitians. With it, About.com wanted to announce that it was a departure from staid and clinical sites like WebMD and others.

Verywell was a bit of a gamble, since About.com didn’t know if people would accept the new format. But it has been a success so far. According to comScore, it ranks in the top 10 health information sites, reaching nearly 17m US unique users each month. Its audience has grown 84% since its launch in May 2016.

What worked best was the accessibility of its information, according to Vogel.

“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,” he said.

The experiment also let About.com know that, not only did they present the information in a friendly way, they also found that people read content in places that make them comfortable on the internet, and that’s when they’re reading content they like — and About.com has demonstrated that attraction for a number of years.

With the Verywell model in place, the company quickly set out to launch more vertical sites, including The Balance which helps people with financial matters, Lifewire to provide answers on technology issues, and its most recent, The Spruce, which combines its food and home channels into one overarching home site.

Vogel sees The Spruce as a different site than the other three, but one that has the same friendliness and accessibility.

“It’s a different kind of experience, more of an east-west, 'browsy' experience,” said Vogel. “It’s inspirational and how-to. It helps you get an idea of what you want to do and how to do it. We took a look at other home improvement sites…inspirational ones like HGTV and how-to, weird ones — going down the YouTube rabbit hole,” he said.

According to About.com, The Spruce’s clean and modern design provides advertisers the opportunity to align with users that have clearly stated intent and want to take action.

“Our capabilities and proprietary data tools leverage years of insights beyond what’s available on other home and food sites. We align marketers directly with buying decisions in a safe and trusted environment,” said Andrew Gorenstein, president of advertising and partnerships, About.com.

What Vogel and his team of experts wanted to do was to build a meaningful brand for everything done in the home including hobbies, home improvement, minor repairs, design ideas, gardening, cooking and other all-encompassing home-related topics. He said there is a chance they went too broad, but so far, the numbers show success, even after just over a week.

According to comScore, The Spruce is a top 10 lifestyle-home site – even though it was just launched last week – that attracts over 8m monthly US unique users.

The other About.com vertical sites are also performing in top 10 spaces. The Balance is a top 10 personal finance site that reaches over 10m US unique users each month and has grown 57% since its launch in September 2016, faster than any site in its category, according to About.com. Lifewire is a top 10 technology-information site that reaches over 6m monthly US unique users each month, with an audience that has grown 94% since its launch in November 2016. It’s the only site in the technology-news category that has posted double-digit growth during that time period.

Much of the rapid numbers boost comes from the fact that most of the content is evergreen – not breaking news, where Vogel admits they can’t compete – and the content is already there, so Google, Facebook and Pinterest are already traffic sources for About.com content.

As a result of its branded properties, About.com is now the fastest-growing large publisher, according to comScore.

Changes are about to come

In roughly six weeks, About.com will spin off its travel site to a vertical called TripSavvy. Vogel said the site will be focused on family travel most of all, since that’s where most of their searches have come from in the travel silo. It will launch with 100 experts, ranging from city and regional guides to theme park and country specialists. Vogel admits that it will be the smallest of all the vertical sites, but one that still should generate top 10 comScore numbers.

With the launch of TripSavvy, Vogel said that the company will be done launching verticals. The other topics About.com currently covers as silos will most likely go away after that, including fashion, style and breaking news, which matters less in the About.com way of doing business.

“We're trying to be the thing that you use when you have important life decisions about your health, money, technology and home. We're not competing with style content anymore because we can't. I think what we're trying to do is to take a softer approach to what we call 'higher-stakes' content. A Kardashian picture is not high-stakes content; it doesn't matter,” he stated in an earlier story on The Drum.

What’s in a name?

For About.com, the name itself has become a liability rather than an asset. Vogel said that they did a survey of what About.com meant to Internet users, and “meh, was the reaction. It didn’t mean anything to anybody.”

The reason for a name change, he said, was that it was getting too difficult to tell a new story.

“For the people who work here, the last bit of evolution is that we really need to get away from the name — accentuate the good, drop the bad. We have tremendous legacy issues, so we’re going to look at the good. We’re up, we have all these users and we still have a profitable business for the 250 people who work here. IAC is super supportive as well. We have plenty of resources to do this, but getting everyone reorganized was a challenge. We had all the ingredients for a cake here, we just didn’t know how to make the cake and focus on where we're strongest,” he said.

Vogel is excited moving forward and away from the About.com name. He believes that The Spruce is the best thing they’ve ever built, and now they need to pivot from launching to managing the sites.

“We’ve got a direction and we know what we want to be. Our content is evergreen. Of all branded premium publishers on the internet, I think we’re the best. We help people solve problems and do things. We have incredible, scaled audiences – one in five Americans – searching in a totally safe environment, and advertisers are excited about that,” he concluded.

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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