Dotdash, Riding Wave of Search Traffic, Acquires New Sites


As digital publishers generate less web traffic from links on

Facebook
,

a familiar source is helping to plug the gap: search engines.

Dotdash, an IAC/InterActive Corp. unit that owns websites including Verywell and Investopedia, said sharpening its focus on

Alphabet
Inc.’s

Google and putting less emphasis on fickle social networks helped propel a 35% rise in revenue in the third quarter of 2018 and over $100 million in total revenue for the full year.

Dotdash makes money through advertising and by sending readers to third-party retailers where they can buy products mentioned in its pieces, earning a referral fee in the process.

Dotdash now is looking to replicate its approach on a bigger portfolio by acquiring the beauty-focused sites Byrdie and Mydomaine from Clique Brands Inc. The companies declined to disclose financial terms of the deal.

Buying websites is a new strategy for Dotdash, which owns a network of digital publications created from the remnants of About.com in 2017.

Byrdie and Mydomaine, which together draw about 5.5 million monthly unique views, are an entree to the realm of beauty advertising for Dotdash, said Neil Vogel, the company’s chief executive.

Brands spent about $1.4 billion to advertise cosmetics and other beauty products during the first six months of 2018, according to Kantar Media. Digital publishers like Refinery29, Popsugar and Bustle are all competing for a share of the bounty, alongside platforms such as Facebook Inc. and Google.

Byrdie and Mydomaine are valuable in part because users are visiting the sites for answers to practical questions, Mr. Vogel said. That makes them more receptive to advertiser solutions for their problems and more likely to buy products that are featured on the websites.

Mr. Vogel said Dotdash has built an eight-figure business from e-commerce—It collects a referral fee for sending users to third-party retailers such as

Amazon.com
.

Focusing on search-engine traffic and e-commerce is a popular strategy across the digital media sector, as publishers seek to wean themselves off social media networks and cultivate more reliable sources of web traffic.

Others, including magazine publisher Meredith Corp. and Ziff Davis, the owner of sites including Mashable and PC Mag, are capitalizing on a rising tide of search traffic.

“Google is not without its issues,” said Jon Miller, chief executive of Integrated Media Co., which purchased a majority stake in the search-friendly pop-culture site Fandom early last year. “But it is in the business of referring traffic and promoting quality publishers. With some of the folks in the social world, that’s unclear.”

Mr. Miller is the former chief digital officer of News Corp, which owns Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones.

In the early to mid-2000s, search-engine optimization—tactics to ensure high placement in online search results—was the name of the game, helping sites like eHow and HuffPost gain traction. But in the past several years, as Facebook gathered strength as a source of traffic, the social network became crucial to publishers.

The pendulum is swinging back after Facebook made a variety of changes in how it surfaces and prioritizes news articles in its feed.

The industrywide focus on search has been spurred, in part, by changing digital readership habits. Referral traffic to publisher websites from search engines accounted for 56% of visits during the last quarter of 2018, compared with about 26% from social media, according to analytics firm Chartbeat. During a comparable period two years ago, about 42% of traffic to publisher websites was from search and 39% was from social media.

Mr. Vogel said reducing the number of ads on Dotdash-owned properties has helped give the websites greater prominence in search-engine results by decreasing the amount time it takes each site to load, more than making up for revenue lost through decreased ad load. Dotdash also focuses on evergreen content that has enduring relevance, separating it from publishers that focus on news stories that have become increasingly unpalatable to advertisers.

Meredith, the owner of magazines including People, AllRecipes and Better Homes and Gardens, now draws about 70% of its web traffic from search thanks in part to an emphasis on reducing ad load and improving speed, said Stan Pavlovsky, executive vice president of Meredith Digital.

Mashable has deployed a blend of evergreen content, search-engine optimization and e-commerce to attract and monetize a larger web audience, said Jessica Coen, the site’s senior vice president and editor in chief.

Relying too heavily on traffic from search engines has proved calamitous for media companies.

Demand Media
Inc.

which went public in 2011, began suffering losses when its business of providing answers to search-engine queries was buffeted by Google’s shifting algorithm.

Mr. Vogel says Dotdash’s strategy of cultivating multiple sources of web traffic isn’t only about optimizing the company’s content for search engines.

“We have just focused on making great content which people need,” Mr. Vogel said.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at [email protected]

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