Why, After 20 Years, About.com is Changing its Name to Dotdash

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Dot Dash 3x2
Dot Dash 3x2 Credit: About.com

About.com -- the 20-year-old general interest site with hundreds of thousands of articles about everything from "The right way to handwash clothes" to "What to do if you hate your in-laws" -- has a new mandate, and a new name to to go with it.

The New York-based, IAC-owned company, which actually began as MiningCo.com, is now "Dotdash," a nod to the company's history of having a "dot" in its previous names and logos, and a "dash" meant to represent what comes next, said CEO Neil Vogel. The dot and dash also represent the letter "A" in Morse code.

"We wanted to have a nod to our history and acknowledge that we're a brand new company that's nothing like we used to be," Vogel said.

Neil Vogel.
Neil Vogel. Credit: About.com

As of Tuesday, Dotdash will be the umbrella brand for its consumer-facing sites focused on health, tech, personal finance, home and education — with a travel-focused vertical planned for later this month. The Dotdash website will have a directory of its brands for advertisers, media and trade, but won't be consumer-facing. The sites will ditch any articles on topics outside its topic areas.

'The Yahoo strategy'
The move is not without risks for the company: Other publishers have tried adding verticals to flailing businesses, with mixed results.

"It's kind of like the Yahoo strategy of trying to build up certain channels of content that were very very strong, Yahoo Finance, for example  — But it hasn't really managed to change what looks like the future for Yahoo," said Susan Bidel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research on the B2C marketing team.

Vogel, who joined the company in 2013, said About.com began launching the standalone topic-specific sites last year after the site struggled with growth.

"Advertisers kept saying to us, 'God, your reach is so good and your data is so impressive but I'm not putting my brand next to About.com, so we're not going to give you any money'," he said. "And then, importantly, algorithms like Facebook and Google and Pinterest just didn't know what to make of our domain. If you saw a good article about diabetes on About.com, how can that be good if it's on the same domain where there's content on how to unclog my drain?"

With the new model, Vogel said the old name had to go.

"What we learned is we can't keep it because it means something to people that has been around for too long that we're not anymore," said Vogel.

"We went from a general interest website nobody cared about, to right now we're the fastest-growing large publisher and every one of the brands we've launched is by far the fastest growing in its space," he said. "We're north of 50 million ComScore uniques a month."

'They have traffic'
To get the word out about Dotdash and its new vertical sites, the company said it's making a "substantial investment" in media and events that will run through the end of the year, though it wouldn't disclose how much it was spending. This marks the first advertising spend since IAC bought About.com in 2012, the company said. The New York Times Co. sold About.com that year to IAC for $300 million. It acquired About.com in 2005 for north of $400 million.

"It's going to require that they market the channel strategy and get over the sort of image that they were a resource for answering whatever question you had, that for some reason popped up high enough on your search parameters to get your attention as a consumer," said Bidel.

"The important thing from an advertiser perspective is that they have traffic. And so if they think that this kind of channel strategy is going to attract a bigger audience, than that would be a step in the right direction."

Erin Vogel, senior VP-creative strategist, brand content at Mediavest Spark (no relation to Neil), said she believes Dotdash's shift will be attractive for advertisers. She said the site has been different in that people haven't typically come through its homepage.

"But the amount of data that they sit on -- the amount of SEO recognition that they have -- has always made them a huge player in terms of number of people and minutes spent and time spent with their site and ComScore reports," Vogel said.

"I think this plays very perfectly into, 'We've got the data, how do we get the content and how do we go from awareness of numbers into real, relevant connections and meaningful ways to tell stories to consumers in a way that they know who they're engaging with, and become loyal to those properties as a trusted property'  — as opposed to, 'I read this article once somewhere.'"

Though now we'll never know what to do if we hate our in-laws.

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