purchased in March 2005 by the New York Times Company for $410 Million. Since that time About.com has continued to flourish - it has 31 Million people visiting it each month and according to Scott Meyer it has grown 30% in page views over the last year. Most of this growth can be attributed to one stat: About.com gets 80% of its total traffic from search engines. Talk about search engine optimization (SEO)!While at the Web 2.0 Summit last week I caught up with About.com CEO Scott Meyer. About.com is the long-standing network of how-to websites,
About.com is made up of 500 "Guides", people who are experts on a certain topic. In a way About.com was the precursor to topic-focused blogs. Only the guides are more renowned for writing how-to articles, rather than the analysis and commentary of the best blogs. About.com these days also has a lot of reviews and product comparisons, similar to a site like CNET.
80% of traffic from search
In terms of stats, Scott told me that About's total revenue is growing slightly faster than their page views - so revenue grew 40% last year, compared to 30% increase in page views for the same period. On the 80% of total traffic from search engines, when you consider that About specializes in writing how-to guides for hundreds of topics - then 80% sounds reasonable. I myself often bump into About.com webpages when I need to find out how to do something. But 80% is still a huge amount and illustrates plainly the difference between About.com guides and bloggers (most of whom rely on incoming links and subscribers for their traffic). It also shows how well About has mastered the art of SEO!
Scott also reeled off a list of verticals where About.com is ranked highly in - e.g. they have the #1 parenting website on the Web, the #4 food site, etc.
Who are these Guides then?
I asked Scott to tell me more about the guides - what kind of person does this and how many make a living from it? Scott told me that the guides are 'independent contractors' and the average guide makes $15,000 per annum - the amount depends on how many page views they garner. The minimum amount a guide is currently making is $5,000, but Scott said they have 50 guides who earn over $50,000 per annum. One of the guides makes $200,000.
The other way guides earn a living is from media gigs - and this is where the NY Times connection seems to be helping. Scott said About.com gets around 1000 press citations every year (not all from NY Times of course).
As for what About looks for in its guides, it's similar to what makes a good blog - an ability to write well for the Web, a passion for the topic and expertise. Scott told me their guides have comments and conversations with readers, like blogs. But the difference from blogs, he says, is that About.com content is instructional and gives a "360 degree view of a topic".
What's changed since NY Times acquired About.com?
Since the acquisition in March 2005, Scott says that the quality of content in About.com has increased, the criteria for being a guide has tightened, there has been an increase in management numbers (now 1 editor for every 50 guides), and also NYT has invested money in the product - meaning more resources and money for re-design.
Scott made a point of saying the NY Times and About brands are very different. NY Times is a premium news brand, whereas About.com is more mainstream. However he told me that the two brands work together in sales and advertising.
The About.com acquisition has really helped the NY Times is in terms of SEO and also in the technology for online publishing and advertising. Scott said there have been "dramatic increases" in the NY Times website and other Times properties, thanks in large part to About.com.
What's in the re-design
As mentioned, About.com is undergoing a re-design and it is currently in beta (you will see it around 25% of the time apparently). It plans to make user interaction more centralized and give identity to commenters. About will also be introducing more video, and expanding internationally - Scott said that 30% of their traffic is international (which actually seems quite low, considering current trends).
In this age of blogging and social networking, where everyone has a voice and there is never any shortage of opinion - it's easy to forget that the About.com network provides a much needed 'how to' and basic informational resource on the Web. One of the early uses of the Web was as a way to look up information and find out how to do things. Well, over a decade later, those needs are still here - and About.com is taking full advantage of it.
But really there's no reason why talented bloggers can't do the same thing on their own. What blogs do you know of that write how-to articles for a living? Leave a comment telling us of your favorite how-to blogs, because it'd be interesting to compare them with About.com.