Written on December 31st, 2004 at 09:12 am by Darren Rowse

About.com - Megablog

Case Studies 2 comments


What is the biggest pro blogging operation that you can think of?

If you believed the press it would probably either be Gawker or Weblogs Inc. They certainly know how to get press coverage. But whilst they are successful blogging networks there is another one that is quietly going about its business of building market share in the background with little noise or PR (at least that I’ve seen).

About.com is a site that many of us will have surfed by on numerous occasions after searching on Google for anything from Action Figures to Archaeology to Salt Water Aquariums. Their reach is quite staggering in terms of topic but also traffic. This is a megasite.

Actually it is a Megablog.

Yep - About uses Moveable Type blogging software to run its many pages and is in fact many blogs all running from the same domain name. All in all they actually are running 700 blogs and are currently ranked by Alexa as the 76th highest rank site online and 7000 out of ever 1 million web users find their page every day (that is like 0.7% of all surfers end up on their pages - sounds small but its massive).

Lets put that in context with a picture (I am more a picture guy than a words one). This one compares About’s ranking with mega blog Gizmodo and the not so mega livingroom collection of blogs.


It actually doesn’t look too bad (for me) until you look at the axis on the left and realize that its totally out of scale to accommodate the puniness of my blogs.

‘According to Nielsen NetRatings, About.com is a top 15 Web property used by one out of every five people on the Internet.’ (Source)

About.com uses MT to run their blogs and mainly utilizes Google’s Adsense to monetize them. You may look at their site and wonder where the Adsense ads are - they are not always immediately evident - that is because these guys are so big that they are premium publishers and get special exceptions when placing ads.

This special treatment means that their adsense ads are not labeled as being from Google like the rest of ours and they get all kinds of licence when it comes to format and placement. For instance check out this page which is almost completely Adsense ads (I doubt most sites would get away that little content on a page).

About.com also uses other CPM advertisements and affiliate programs on their blogs which vary depending upon the topic.

Index Copy-1

So how do they run so many blogs? Do they rely upon a huge staff? do they have one insomniac who is completely addicted to blogging working 24 hour days? Do they rely upon volunteers? What is the deal?

Their system is quite simple really - About.com pays people to blog for them. They don’t call them bloggers but rather give them the name of ‘Guide’. There are around 475 of them at present. Guides are described as follows:

About Guides live and work in over 20 countries and celebrate their interests in hundreds of topics. Guides are selected for their ability to provide the most interesting information for users, and for their passion for their subject and the Net. The selection process is rigorous — only 10% of those that apply graduate to the live service. ‘

How much are Guides paid? Is it worth it? The answer is $500 per month minimum as long as they continue to grow their readership. Whilst specifics are not published on their site it is pretty clear on their information pages for potential guides that this is just a base income and that as you grow your traffic (and earn them more) there is potential to earn more than that.

About.com is not a short term thing - they started the project back in 1997 and have steadily added content every day since and now have almost 1 million pages of content.

Big stuff isn’t it! I personally find it quite inspiring to see what can be done with some creativity and hard work online.

2 Responses to “About.com - Megablog”

  • Heh! Nice to see this pointed out. In fact, check out the Internet Archive - it looks like About.com has been featuring a reverse-chronological list of new items on their pages since 1999.

    However, About.com’s focus the last couple of years seems to be (a) cutting expenses and (b) squeezing as many ads as possible onto each page. I don’t find any of their sites valuable enough to visit frequently, despite them covering some of my favorite topics.

    If they realize they’re the world’s largest blog producer and make some changes to be more like WIN or Gawker–an emphasis on good writing, less ads, more participation in the blogging community, etc–they could practically own the game.

    Anyone remember when they were called The Mining Company?

  • Great links …

    This is my guiding principle in journalism: My readers know more than I do, and that’s great!
    óSan Jose Mercury News’ Dan Gillmor

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