NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since About.com launched in 1997 (called Mining Co. at the time), it has served as a comprehensive repository of topical, professionally produced content on the web. But today the information it offers, from advice on getting a flu shot to how to keep kids occupied on rainy days, isn't limited to professionals. Like others who survived the Web 1.0 heyday, About.com faces a new crop of competitors: social sites and services whose content is created by consumers, such as Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers.
About.com is betting its users are still interested in advice and articles from experts on more than 600 topics, but it knows it needs to evolve to stay relevant. Extending that text-based model into a video one will be the key. The site introduced a video library that covers topics from childproofing the home to using a digital camera.
"Our traffic continues to grow," said Scott Meyer, president-CEO of About.com, despite competition from places such as Wikipedia. (Mr. Meyer says the community-based encyclopedia helps his traffic and has 5,000 links to About.com.)
About.com has about 500 videos so far, accessed through an in-page player powered by Brightcove.
"Video's becoming a baseline. ... It's absolutely necessary even just for retention of audience," said eMarketer senior analyst David Hallerman. It's another way to present the same information-and can also increase time spent on a site.
About.com, owned by the New York Times Co., has always relied heavily on smart-search optimization -- much of its traffic comes from people searching for particular topics. Video is no different, which is why every video is cataloged with a long list of metadata -- and often a full transcript.
When people are searching, they're looking for information on a particular topic, not necessarily video information on that topic, Mr. Meyer said. "It's not 'How do I bake lemon chicken? I wish I had a video on that.'"
The transcripts help optimization because web crawlers pick up text-based descriptions. They also let people decide whether they'd rather read or watch a video about a topic.
About.com tackled video production in an unusual way as well. While many sites have enlisted content producers to become video producers, "asking all the guides to make video wasn't the right model," Mr. Meyer said. Instead, About.com employs separate video experts who work under the direction of the vertical experts. For example, Kathy Moore stars in videos on how to childproof the home under the direction of Stephanie Brown, About.com's parenting expert.
Video as display advertising
So what's it worth to the bottom line? Mr. Meyer didn't disclose how much video will contribute but said the company expects it to outpace an eMarketer estimate of 10% of display ads in the next four years. In the next 18 months, video inventory will more than double to become a material part of display advertising, Mr. Meyer said.
According to eMarketer's Mr. Hallerman, video ads have the potential to bring in the most revenue relative to banners or text links.
Mr. Meyer believes video content is going to be a key to raising the site's profile among blue-chip-brand advertisers. "I want to hear senior marketing people and agencies saying, 'I've got a marketing need; I need to call About.com,'" he said.
He envisions About.com creating content environments for specific advertisers -- for example, it has aggregated all of its Las Vegas content on a microsite called 48 Hours in Vegas, which is sponsored by a group of Las Vegas entertainment properties.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported About.com had advice and articles from experts on more than 700 topics; the number should be 600. The article also misspelled the name of one of the experts; it's Kathy Moore, not Moove. Lastly, the 48 Hours in Vegas microsite was created for a group of Las Vegas entertainment properties, not the city's tourism board.