About.com Retires, Rebrands As Vertical Publisher Group Dotdash

IAC-owned About.com is losing its web 1.0 moniker and rebranding as Dotdash.

Dotdash is the umbrella brand behind About.com’s slew of new vertical sites, which includes properties like personal finance-focused The Balance, as well as the health and fitness site, Verywell.

Neil Vogel claimed that the vertical reinvention last year is paying dividends. Verywell, for instance, has grown 63% to 17 million monthly uniques since focusing on branded content creation over chasing search traffic.

“When I joined About.com, it was just a mess. You looked at the site and thought, ‘This really shouldn’t be in business anymore,’” he said. “The monetization was so prevalent and weird.”

But though the environment looked non-premium, Vogel felt the content was.

Vogel spoke with AdExchanger about About.com’s evolution under Dotdash.

AdExchanger: Why the rebrand?

NEIL VOGEL: Before we launched vertical interest sites, we were this very big general interest site that nobody thought about nor cared about. Advertisers liked us for our scale and data, but we didn’t have a brand.

Months after the launch of our vertical sites, we’re seeing … fast growth. We went after white spaces in their respective markets where you could align our content with domains people liked and understood. Users stay longer and come more often. 

Why Dotdash?

We wanted a name with a nod to our history. For 20 years, we’ve always had a red dot in our logo, so we kept the dot, and then “dash” to represent what’s next. And in Morse Code, dot dash is the letter A. So we thought that was super clever and the little Easter egg within the name. The brands are going to be out front, but [Dotdash] is the holding company brand. It’s not a consumer brand. About.com didn’t work as a holding company name because people thought of it as that weird site where they learned something strange when they Googled something five years ago.

How will you associate Dotdash with all of your new vertical properties if no one’s heard of it yet?

The common thread that runs through all of our content is that we demystify things and we make your life better by helping you.

You’re never going to see Kardashian pictures on our sites, but if you’re looking to cook something for dinner, you’re going to care where you read it. Not only are we keeping our experts, but it’s the bread and butter of what we do. We have over 120 expert writers on our health site, for instance, and more than half of them are MDs.

How are you changing the way you monetize along with your new editorial approach?

We’re probably half premium, meaning stuff that we’re writing or creating, and about half programmatic. The newer brands have been great for both of those things. You’re coming here to make something, understand something, so it’s a good place for advertisers to be where there’s intent further down the funnel.

We have a decent and growing commerce business as well. A lot of what we do is review content. It’s content-based commerce. We’re not just throwing a random deal on a page. Think more like The Wirecutter or CNET.

You’ve been in publishing for awhile. What’s your take on the whole YouTube brand safety issue and how has it impacted you guys?

We don’t do news. It’s not our thing. We’re evergreen content, so the brand safety thing has been a boon for our business. Even with programmatic PMPs, big agencies want to know you’re brand safe at scale. That there’s not some third-party network of content creators.

It’s not like YouTube just changed overnight. The social and political climate changed and you care about what your ad runs next to. I don’t feel like this is something that’s just going to blow over and I’m not sure machines alone are going to solve it to a standard that works for major advertisers. You will always need some curation.

Are you ramping up headcount as a result of your rebrand?

We grew from about 150 to 250 people [since I started]. If we keep growing, our headcount will continue to go up. We’re not about hire ahead of growth. We’re hire in lockstep with growth. So we do need more people than we can hire right now. Good engineers are hard to get. Good programmatic people are hard to get, and so are sellers.

Interview edited for clarity and length.

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