Oddly, the fact that about.com is part of a public company does not
make the task at hand much easier.
The information that is included in the regular annual and quarterly
reports of the New York Times Company is easy enough to come by.
But in checking through a deep collection of newspaper articles and
reports about About.com, it becomes clear that almost everyone is
merely repackaging the same publicly-available information. There is
little of substance in print that goes beyond what the NYT reports
about its much-admired holding.
Still...bits and pieces do come together, so here, below, is what I
was able to glean on the workings and finances of About.com. Keep in
mind, though, that this is an operation that is not only growing very
rapidly, but is also changing rapidly as it adjusts to its new
relationship with NYT, and tries to stay a step ahead in the
warp-speed world of internet advertising revenues.
--How much traffic do they get every month
About.com has consistently ranked as one of the most well-trafficked
sites on the internet, and are generally in the Top Ten in discrete
categories, such as health care.
In 2005, about.com had an average of:
--29.3 million monthly unique visitors in the United States
--42.6 million monthly unique visitors worldwide
In April of 2006, these numbers had increased to 31 million, US, and
48 million, worldwide (and in a May 2006 speech, About.com's CEO
mentioned "55 million users"; my guess is that he meant the same thing
as "unique visitors" though I don't know for certain) .
No other metrics were reported as to pages per visit, etc. However,
the company has ackowledged that they've experienced increases in all
key aspects of internet display advertising: numbers of unique
visitors, number of visits per unique visitor, number of pages per
visit, and the rate charged per ad. There was no mention, though, or
trends regarding number of clicks per visit.
--How much revenue do they generate every month?
About.com had revenues of about $2.2 million a month for the first
half of 2005. By 2006, revenues had almost tripled, to almost $6.4
million. Who knows what it is at present?
--What is their revenue per visitor?
Using the 2005 average number of 42.6 million unique visitors
(worldwide) per month, then each visitor generates:
--2005: $2.2 million / 42.6 million = 5.16 cents per visitor
--2006: $6.4 million / 42.6 million = 15.02 cents per visitor
If instead, you choose the 2006 figure of 48 million visitors per
month, then the 2006 revenue looks like:
--2006: $6.4 million / 48 million = 13.3 cents per visitor
--What are the biggest contributors to their revenue (what formats of
ads are working and what's not)
There is nothing that seems to be "not working" at about.com in terms
of their revenue stream...at least as far as the public reporing goes.
Revenue is developed through three primary sources:
--Display advertising revenue (paying for posting, based on number of eyeballs)
--Cost-per-click revenue (income each time someone clicks on ad)
--e-commerce revenue (chiefly, income when someone clicks and then
buys a product)
The first two account for the lion's share of about.com's
revenue...e-commerce revenue is a small (roughly 5% of revenue) income
stream, but is growing rapidly and may play a larger role in the
Cost-per-click advertising accounted for 53% of about.com's revenue in
early 2006, leaving approximately 42% from display advertising. In
dollar terms, based on 2006 revenues of $6.4 million per month, this
--cost-per-click revenue: $3.39 million
--display ad revenue: $2.69 million
--e-commerce revenue: $0.32 million
Their e-commerce revenue, though small, is actually their
fastest-growing revenue stream.
--Who are their biggest advertisers?
The following companies are listed as among About.com's biggest
advertisers...however, the context is a bit ambiguous as to whether
these are the bigeest overall, or the biggest display advertisers:
About.com has been working hard to attract (successfully, it seems)
more of the big-name advertisers to their site...a task that's been
helped by their newfound affiliation with NYT.
An article in Advertising Age (reference provided below) provided a bit of detail:
"...blue-chip brands for the first time have sampled About, including
Microsoft, Nissan, Honda, American Express, Wal-Mart and Intel. ``It's
a huge endorsement for the quality of About.com,'' Mr. Meyer
said....Some of these were already Times advertisers. But About
facilitated a deal between its client Wal-Mart and Times Digital,
resulting in a holiday 2005 display ad campaign..."
--How many people are working to sell their ads?
Also a tough one. The one relevant bit of data is About.com's total
number of employees which (to my surprise) is a mere 90 people.
Assume about half of them are taking care of the non-sales aspects of
the business, that leaves a sales force of about 45.
--Where does their traffic come from?
About.com has devoted extensive resources to search engine
optimization. The vast bulk of their traffic -- about 80% -- comes
directly from search engine result pages. Only 5% of their visitors
head directly to the about.com homepage (that is, only 5% type
about.com directly into their address bar, or click on a "Favorites"
link directly to about.com). The remainder, presumably, come in
through referrals or ads at other sites.
----What are their most profitable pages?
Unfortunatley, I found no specifics about which pages, in particular,
are generating the most profit. However, about.com has gone through a
fairly extensive consolidation over the years, reducing the numer of
topic pages from
Here are some other observations that I thought would be worth noting:
--The purchase of about.com by the New York Times was met with a fair
degree of scepticism -- the stodgy old Times hooking up with an
internet hotshot. But it seems the Times is having the last laugh.
About.com has given their revenues a nice shot in the arm, and will
likely do so in an increasing way for the next few years, at least.
Just as importantly, there is a handsome synergy emerging between the
two entities, in the form of cross-referrals to one another's web
pages, in joint sales marketing efforts, and in consolidated
datasystems used by both sites.
--The use of topic Guides is a key part of the about.com business
model and seems particularly sustainable. Guides are paid according
to the amount of traffic their pages bring, so the costs for the
guides is not a fixed cost to about.com, but rather increases only if
traffic increases. The Guides are independent contractors, so come
with a fairly low overhead for About.com.
About.com has 500 main sites, each led by a Guide, i.e., a subject
matter expert. Within the main sites are sub-topics, and there are
more than 57,000 total topics at about.com, with more than 1.3 million
pieces of original content. About.com considers this the largest
database of original content "created just for the Web".
The average Guide earns $15,000/yr. Fifty Guides earn more tha
$50,000 and a handful are earning $100,000 or more.
Expect to see an expanded number of Guides and topic areas in years to
come, especially geared towards an international audience that is a
growing part of About.com's income stream. New additions will
increasingly appear in non-English languages.
--About.com seems to be making increasing use of user demographics.
"...our core user is a woman we call Jane About. She is an educated
woman in her late '30s, married with kids at home and household income
of over $75,000. As you can imagine, that gives us an excellent
audience to provide solutions to blue-chip advertisers..."
--About's 2003 deal with Google, as seen here:
seems to still be intact, and under re-negotiation. Although the
details of the arrangements are not public, it seems an important
aspect of about.com's business.
The key sources of information for the above are:
New York Times Company quarterly and annual reports on file with SEC:
About.com carries its weight for NY Times Co. As revenue steadily
climbs and blue chips buy spots, purchase looks like smart move for
27 February 2006
[no URL available]
I trust this is the information you were looking for.
However, if there's anything else I can do for you, just let me know
by posting a Request for Clarification, and I'm at your service.