What Verywell learned from its first year on its own

When Dotdash — back when it was called About.com — decided to break itself into vertical brands, it knew that it would have to start with health. “We knew we had to start with the biggest, hardest, most important one first,” Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel said.

Now, a little more than a year later, Verywell, the first site Dotdash decided to separate, is attracting around 8 million readers per month, according to comScore. Verywell’s overall multiplatform audience, which also includes traffic from Daily Burn and Cleveland Clinic, ranks eighth in comScore’s health information category, effectively even with MSN Health but still far behind longtime market leaders like WebMD Health (74 million) and Everyday Health (42 million).

More importantly, Verywell remains a good bet in the eyes of media buyers. “I think this was a welcome change for them,” said Greg Reilly, svp of media at Publicis Health Media. “It was a sensible, strategic move. … We’re pretty happy with what we’re seeing in terms of their execution.”

As you’d expect of any site focused on health information, Verywell is still search-dependent — nearly 70 percent of its monthly desktop traffic comes from search results, according to SimilarWeb.

But Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel’s bet on a new brand seems to be paying off, with a greater share of Verywell readers actively navigating to the site. Today, Vogel said, 15 percent of Verywell’s traffic is direct, nearly twice as much as the 8 percent it got when it was About Health.

“That means people are bookmarking,” Vogel said. “People are understanding they want to come back.”

In a category like health, where there is a lot of information to digest, there is a temptation to give everybody everything upfront. Verywell deliberately streamlined its pages, featuring fewer ads and a cleaner presentation.

“They’ve taken a very proactive stance on good user experience,” Reilly said.

With search-driven publishers, there isn’t always an incentive to constantly update one’s content. But for a new brand, particularly one focused on health care, Vogel decided the content needed to be as up-to-date as possible. Over the past year, the site has overhauled all its content so it’s newer. The average age of Verywell’s content has decreased from three years to less than one year in that time frame, Vogel said.

While plenty of vertical publishers can count on Facebook referral traffic to buoy them, Verywell doesn’t have that same luxury. “Our stuff isn’t something you’re likely to see in a feed,” said Vogel, noting that nearly half of Verywell’s content is condition-specific, that is, articles that are relevant only to people interested in a specific malady, like Type 2 diabetes or stomach cancer.

That doesn’t mean Verywell punted on Facebook traffic. Instead, it seeds those condition-specific pieces in Facebook groups focused on those specific conditions; some of the groups, like the Stay Calm Mom, which has over 200,000 fans, or Verywell Fed, it’s created on its own, while others that have existed for a while, to drive traffic and build Verywell’s brand awareness.

In a conversation with Digiday+ subscribers earlier this year, Vogel said Dotdash tried influencers, including fitness authorities like Natalie Uhling, to boost audience.

But they didn’t work. “We haven’t found anybody in those spaces, when you’re talking about our scale, that can really make a dent, that makes traffic move,” said Vogel, noting that for a health-focused publisher, the site’s authors — the vast majority of whom are doctors or nurses — are authorities enough.


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