How dot-com publisher Astrology.com persevered — and is growing
The dot-com boom and bust is long over, but Astrology.com has survived and, in some ways, thrived by focusing on its website and apps, search and email.
The site, which was created in 1999 and is owned by San Francisco-based media company Ingenio, is touting 38 percent year-over-year revenue growth in 2018, up from 10 percent between 2016 to 2017. It’s profitable. Today, Astrology.com’s annual revenue is in the “low eight figures,” with 60 percent coming from programmatic display advertising, 20 percent from ads sold directly, 15 percent from email marketing and five percent from premium content sales, according to Josh Jaffe, gm of media for Ingenio.
In December 2018, the site received 2 million unique visitors and 22 million total visits, with visitors on average spending 7.8 minutes on the site, according to Comscore data.
Unlike many modern-day media companies, Astrology.com hasn’t committed to growing distribution via social platforms — or looking to them for ad revenue sharing. The company has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but they are not where Jaffe said he has focused his team’s efforts. Astrology.com, of course, has the advantage of a strong domain.
“We are [on social], but it’s such a low impact. We think it may be because astrology is something a little more personal. Google is the big means of distribution, second is direct and third is email,” Jaffe said.
Kelli Fox created Astrology.com in 1995. The site later went through a changing of hands before Ingenio acquired it in 2015. Ingenio itself went from a 1999 dot-com startup with many subsidiaries to being acquired by AT&T in November 2007. In May 2013, Ingenio was reestablished as an independent company, as it stands today.
When Jaffe joined Ingenio and took over Astrology.com in 2016, he prioritized improving the websites and five mobile apps they had already created. At that time, the mobile website was not responsive and not updated on a regular basis.
“You have to respect the owners of the business because they did a great job building up a huge audience. On the other hand, it’s almost like these sites had been stuck in a time machine that went back to 1999,” Jaffe said.
Even though Astrology.com’s site is great for direct discovery, the company’s editorial team wasn’t really focused on other search engine optimization tricks. Now, the team of 12 employees at Horoscope.com Inc. (who are all at Ingenio’s headquarters in San Francisco, except one in New York) makes sure there are new articles on the site daily.
Banner ads on the site are powered through an exclusive arrangement with SheKnows Media as well as Taboola. Prior, the company had its own product and engineering team coordinating the ad units.
Beyond the site, email is one of the company’s priorities to grow the audience and make more money. The company said it has more than 4 million email subscribers across 15 different email newsletters. The email newsletters have a 20 percent open rate, on average.
Kerel Cooper, svp, global marketing at email marketing platform LiveIntent, said his company receives more requests from their clients that want to focus on their owned and operated properties, like email newsletters. LiveIntent clients include Expedia, Condé Nast, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Wayfair.
“We are hearing more and more from our clients about the need to focus on their own content channels and how critical it is for them to engage their audience within their own platform and drive revenue from those platforms,” Cooper said.
Looking ahead, Astrology.com’s Jaffe said he plans to further grow revenue through the site’s premium content library, where people pay for personalized readings like a birth chart or a compatibility report. These reports are built by software and then approved by their editorial teams. The company also plans to charge subscription fees or other micro-payments within its mobile apps.
Voice, as in creating specific content for smart speakers like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, also appeals to Jaffe due to the company’s focus on daily horoscopes and personalization. And they’re also growing video — but not for Facebook, Snapchat or any of the other social networks.
“We don’t have a seven-person Snapchat team here. That’s not our expertise. We’re just trying to win the SEO wars with our video content,” Jaffe said.
This article was amended on Feb. 6. An earlier version misidentified the founder of Astrology.com. The error has been corrected.
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