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Richard Singh – Growth Marketing, About.com – Transcript
Richard Singh is a former Growth and Development Analyst at About.com. He presently works at Loeb.NYC as the Director of Growth and SEO. This AMA was conducted while he was still working at About.com.
The AMA with Richard was held on Jan. 12th, 2016. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.
Everyone welcome Richard Singh from About.com’s marketing team! Thanks for being willing to speak to our group today.
Hope everything is doing great today. I’m doing this AMA live from the About.com offices in Times Square.
How come about.com dominates SEO? #traffic
About.com is an OG site – we’ve been around since 1995 roughly. Solot’s of links, authority and content mixed with age does the trick.
What’re are some unexpected ave’s that about.com gets traffic?
SEM – most unexpected I would say. I can explain more if you wish.
Please explain more.
We used SEM to help offset the traffic from our organic losses. I can’t speak too much in detail about it, but I can tell you if you do it right, the arbitrage is profitable.I will reach out to the SEM team and find out what they are comfortable with me sharing afterwards and report back.
Not my department, don’t want to step on any toes – thanks, Richard.
Which of the Google search updates hit the site the hardest?
Panda 4.0 and 4.2 were felt pretty hard.Approximately 30-40% of our traffic was lost.
How much of that has recovered, and what’s been the best methods for doing so?
Our methods are mostly improving our content – that’s where we were hit the most, if you ask me. We were once a publishing company with writers that did not focus on ranking or optimization. We have been increasing word counts and improving the overall fundamental SEO of the pages ie; Meta Titles, Descriptions, etc.Alot of our issues are also with legacy issues, broken links, etc. – things that were cool eight years ago but not cool to Google anymore.
Who are you most impressed with working at about.com?
I am most impressed with my director Brandon Millard. He’s our Director of SEO. He has a ridiculous depth of knowledge with SEO.
You guys got penalized tho… I kid I kid.
LOL, we did.
What channels does About generate revenue?
Because we are private, I can’t detail the specific channels. But I will you it’s the same as all publishing sites. Same model, people are competing for eyeballs and engagement in the space.
Do you guys focus on SMM as well? What percentages would you say SEM, SMM and SEO contribute to your overall traffic?
We have a dedicated team on SMM, it’s definitely a growing channel.I can’t give %’s, I wish I could – but SEO is the largest.
SMM probably last place. Brand is important with SMM, so we are working at repositioning the brand so when you see it out there in the world, people want to engage.
Great having you here! Quick question: what are the tools you’re proud of having in your arsenal? (Basically, any tools that have made your life easier at About.com.)
Hey man! Thanks. SEMRush, SearchMetrics, Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, Tableau, etc. The key to getting the most out of your tooling is have a workflow and test new tools out – always try new things, it’s easy to cancel. Once you get your workflow down and know what to do with the data, tools become second priority. We also are building out alot of internal tools to handle the scale of our projects which most tools cannot handle.
Who owns about.com?
IAC is our parent company.
What is about.com doing about ad blockers?
Hi. There is a team that is investigating ad blockers and the impact on the website, but nothing dramatic that I have heard of.
What trends in marketing do you think will have the biggest impact in the next 3-5 years?
Video is becoming a huge part of how we consume content. Also, since everything is going to mobile and with the introduction of FB Instant Articles and Google AMP, mobile would be the biggest play IMO.
Where do you see About.com in 5 years?
Hard to say, the internet is moving fast and we have alot of things working in our favor like our existing content, our traffic. But with the people I see here, I have faith we are going to come out really strong in 3-5 years. Things take time for a site of this size.
What types of content perform best for you guys? Lists? Recipes? How tos?
Funny thing, there are no particular types of content that perform better than others. We found that once it’s a quality piece, is factual and delivers what the customer is looking for, they all do well. Lengthy, detailed articles do better than shorter ones.
Awesome – there’s hope for humanity yet.
Yes, we are content first. When you educate your writers on how SEO works, you see improvements. Writers should not be thinking about SEO, they should be thinking about writing content for the internet and searchers. This is how you win at content.
Do you guys do NSFW content?
No. We had some from our past that was removed, and if we come across anything like that we have strict guidelines. However, there are some topics that adults need information on that may not be suitable for work, since we have alot of health related content.
Is About doing anything with native ads?
My director Brand Millard just sent this to me for you to read.
Thank you for doing this AMA. In your opinion, is it possible to mix WH [white hat] and BH [black hat] SEO for long-term success, or should you just be “clean” from the beginning and hope for the best?
Hey! Well this is my opinion and not that of About.com. Some BH strategies are good for scale, but at the end of the day, if it adds no value to the user – it’s not even worth it. I have seen so much money spent on BH in my previous life, just to get flushed out after an update. Building something strong from the beginning that lasts long is the best strategy from my experience. But, being aggressive with WH is not a problem. Buying links and PBN’s and all that, it’s not even worth it sometimes. A good strategy and constant execution works well. Real talk.
Have you tested Pinterest for traffic generation? If so, do you see that as a viable channel (organic & paid) for other businesses in the future?
Can’t comment in detail about Pinterest. But *wink wink*
How has About.com adapted to account for the growing number of mobile users over the years?
Mobile is on the top of our mind. Our teams are working day and night on how to make that experience amazing for our users, but it’s a HUGE moving ship that takes alot of thought. First things first, getting our pages to be as mobile friendly as possible.
Definitely understand that. Mobile strategy is becoming more & more important.
I would also add, speed is a huge part of mobile. Everyone in the space, big and small,is working hard on solving that problem. It’s a huge opportunity.
Agreed! Are you making adjustments to content to speed load times at all? Or is that primarily the job of the developers?
Everyone is always looking at pages on our site and sending feedback to our engineers and ad department to improve site quality. It’s a team effort. Our CEO, Neil is awesome about that. No good idea goes unheard.
Are there any tools that you wish existed to help your job and About?
Yes, tons of tools. But you know, if you learn a bit of Python – you can hack together alot of very specific tools depending on the type of projects you work for. Check out https://automatetheboringstuff.com/
Would you pursue an app strategy or responsive sites?
Responsive first. App strategy depending on the product, but definitely grab the low hanging fruit first.
Are you a developer?
I do front end – also, now diving hard into Python.
Do you do anything that has been particularly effective to keep people on-site once they land? I would think it would be somewhat tough, since people might be coming for help with one goal in mind, and once you’ve satisfied that with outstanding content, do people tend to stick around or bounce?
We have a data science team full of ridiculously smart Ph.D’s and data guys in general that determine what are the best content to have on each page when a user visits to help stimulate longer click paths. Our UI/UX team works on finding out what frustrates our users firstly to make sure we fix that first. Also experimenting with new ways to display related content visually to stimulate that engagement. If you are tracking your data and running good experiments, you don’t need a team of data scientists. We do, but don’t think of that as a barrier to build better sites.
Do you revshare from ads or pay writers outright? How do you scale this to your mega numbers?
Hi! We do both.
Hey. why both? Driven by the writers? Or by your own requirements? What’s your key performance measure for them?
Re: our writers – we don’t give them any input on their content, we only hire experts. And because of that, we let them do their job. Our system is more about constant education. It’s really unheard of on the internet, since at one time we WERE the internet. Every new site has writers that are over-optimizing content, and that doesn’t always add value to the site. We are sticking true to our values and let experts be experts.
What’s the best way to grow your social media follower base, while trying to grow against quality and not quantity (meaning trying to avoid bot accounts)? Is there a tool you’d recommend that’s good at this or is it best to filter this manually?
I have a good friend that works with startups with social media. Please email me at email@example.com and I will forward it over to him.
Thank you. I’ll send you a note.
Any tips on getting hired as an expert at About.com? I always thought it would be an awesome position.
What topic are you looking to write about? Goto http://experts.about.com/. Also, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard are you down to talk about your blackhat days?
Hey guys, I have to run now. Please email me at email@example.com with ANY questions. I hope I didn’t miss anyone. Also, it doesn’t have to be about About.com – Growth and SEO related for your personal projects are welcome.Also, go ahead and add me to LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/richsin
Shucks, just out of time! LOL
Thank you, guys!!! This was awesome. I am open to any questions and please, any way I can help, email me or ask away.
Really appreciate your answers!
Thanks again, hope I was helpful!