Just as the new paywall was going up at nytimes.com, the parent company was dealing with some unwanted bad news at its “About Group,” a trio of sites for which you would be forgiven for not knowing they are property of the Gray Lady.
Two of the sites, CalorieCount and ConsumerSearch, are basically old-fashioned link directories punctuated with Google CPC ads, which of course, only add to the “link and feel.” Embarrassing.
But About.com is the pride and joy of the About Group, 800 or so sites, each focused on a single topic, authored by a single “guide” (supposed to be read as “expert”), pulling in more than 40 million U.S. online visitors per month, according to comScore.
About’s ad revenues have been falling for the past three quarters. As the trend was accelerating earlier this month, the Times’s digital mastermind Martin Nisenholtz stepped in (this is the second time in three years Nisenholtz has temporarily replaced an About CEO). He will have his hands fuller than full.
Traffic and page views are down, which for annual reporting purposes is blamed on Google’s “algorithm change” that caused a drought for most content farms earlier this year. But Nisenholtz knows the problems are much deeper. So what is wrong with About.com?
The periodic marketing campaigns for About.com have always promised more than what you can actually get from the site. It is not as “end-to-end” as About would like you to think. I’d say it’s more about getting a better start to your search. That’s because…(see next section)
…the site looks like sh&t, like it came from a template designed by a blind homeless person. The core content is impossible to navigate, interspersed with display ads and Google ads. You need an extra “guide” to learn how to navigate what the “guide” has written.
Why do I see banner ads for Bounty Towels and that yenta Suze Orman when I am on About’s marketing site? And why do the Google pay-per-click ads look like they’ve been scraped from the bottom of the sewer? (Because they have – About.com outsourced this part to Google).
How should I feel knowing About’s marketing “expert” has a degree in accounting? Why is there absolutely none of her personality allowed to come through? It looks all so, well, content farmish.