changes in Google’s algorithms, and the rise of Facebook wreaked
havoc on digital media. Focused on saving its core business, the
Times sold About.com to Barry Diller’s digital media conglomerate, IAC, in 2012.
When IAC approached former investment banker and dotcom veteran Neil Vogel to lead the faltering site, the opportunity to leverage
About’s robust article archive intrigued him. Vogel recruited vets from
such places as Yahoo and Google, and began rebuilding the technology and reengineering staff to stanch the site’s declining audience.
Yet traffic continued to plummet, and the company missed
its forecasts for nine straight
quarters. “About was no longer
of service to internet users,”
Dotdash COO Alex Ellerson
says. Finally, in the fall of 2015,
Vogel’s team sat across from IAC
CEO Joey Levin, who had orchestrated About’s acquisition, and
pitched a radical new plan: sunset the About.com URL
and redesign more than 1 million articles to redirect
them into vertically focused brands. The value, they told
him, lay in the content and not the About.com website.
Vogel asked for $35 million and six months to relaunch
under the name Dotdash.
This transformation led to something extraordinary in
digital media—a turnaround. While other independent
media companies were engineering their coverage around
social media, video, and trending topics, Dotdash doubled
down on text-based articles about enduring topics and
avoided cluttering them with ads—a strategy that Daniel
Kurnos, an analyst at the investment bank Benchmark,
credits with boosting Dotdash content in search results.
(He calls IAC an “algorithmically elite” company for its
deep understanding of how to infiltrate search engines.)
By focusing on text rather than 24/7 social responsiveness or expensive video production, the company keeps
its costs down. More than 1,000 remote, part-time (and
nominally compensated) contributors across the brands
use tools built by Ellerson’s team to help identify story
ideas that resonate with audiences. Designers and editors can choose from fast-loading templates that include
images, video, and interactive applications. And there’s
an emphasis on creating the kinds of detailed, informative articles that turn up in search results. At Verywell,
for example, each article is updated at least once every
nine months and reviewed by medical professionals.
Vogel is aware, however, that the Google fire hose will
only reach so far. Dotdash and its brands need to become
more recognizable to survive. “If we execute, the search
results will be fine. We have nearly 100 million in our
audiences, and people still don’t know our brands,” he
admits. “We have so much room to grow.”
Neil Vogel becomes
CEO of About.com.
IAC folds Investopedia under Dotdash, laying off a
third of Investopedia’s staff.
About.com is rebranded Dotdash,
launching five different verticals.
Dotdash acquires Brides
from Condé Nast,
shu;ering the print title.
PARENT COMPANY IAC
$131 million (2018)
Twi;er goes live;
Vox News and
Gimlet Media are
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