About.com has been one of the first stops for those seeking advice for many years now and typically reaches 85 million users a month; the sort of channel opportunity that gets marketers excited and ready to reach for their wallets.

But new man at the top at About.com, Neil Vogel, has taken the sort of step with the site that we marketers often advise our clients to do, but don’t always remember often enough to do ourselves. Vogel’s used the opportunity of being a fresh pair of eyes and looked at the About.com site as a new consumer would, seeing it ‘warts an’ all’, and has come up with a fresh design that really does make it easier for the visitor to find their way around.

On a site like About.com that’s absolutely critical; their consumers are looking for specific answers to specific needs; for the most part they’re not on a sight-seeing trip but after a solution. At the heart of Neil Vogel’s strategy is the realisation that these are exactly the visitors for whom native advertising is the ideal communications tool; relevant, entertaining and building the relationship by providing solutions.

For the native industry, About.com have taken the ‘science’ of the native potential a step further. Instead of running sponsored material alongside editorial, which is the usual mode of delivery, About.com have placed it within the editorial, linking the sponsored material directly to a particular issue or query the reader might have.

Now that makes a lot of sense, especially with these types of consumers who, having answered the question that brought them to the site, now want to go away and apply the solution. If that’s a purchase then native can facilitate that immediately; if it’s just more guidance then native can help them through pre-purchase stages.

One of the company’s trialling the About.com approach has been Merrell; for them the opportunity to weave their native ads into relevant editorial in such areas as hiking and hill walking has proved very effective. Neil Vogel says that, generally for advertisers like Merrell, engagement has leapt from 10 per cent to 15 per cent, which is pretty good for any advertising initiative.

About.com’s mission is to get a lot better at anticipating what their consumers and visitors want, and with more than 3.5 million pieces of content and publishing over 6,000 articles per month they have a worthy source of trend and usage data. Of course, getting better at anticipating customers need and wants is in the DNA of any marketer and it would seem that the sharing of any data available would be good for everyone, certainly between About.com and Merrell.

Whatever the subtlety and psychology behind native advertising; ultimately its purpose is to sell product and drive long term profits through positive customer relationships. Because of the precision with which native ads can be positioned in the About.com editorial, potentially offering immediate fulfilment to the need behind the consumer’s search; it would be great to actually see some data on the sales coming through.

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Author Adam Knoyle

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