About Travel is trying to modernize its site without ruining the search engine optimization advantages that it knows well. In the process, even though it is an ad-supported site, About Travel shouldn't be afraid to empower its experts to let their opinions fly.
About.com unveiled its redesigned travel vertical as an image-led site that seeks to leverage its trove of content, which is driven by its roster of more than 120 travel and destination experts on subjects ranging from miles and points to medical tourism and travel tech.
The “look and feel” of About Travel, previously called About.com Travel, immediately reminds you of the recently relaunched Yahoo Travel or USA Today Travel, and is an exercise in trying to take what was essentially a reference site, and turning it into a modern trip-planning service, and eventually a booking site, too.
“We are not a travel writer on a junket,” says About.com CEO Neil Vogel, who took up his post in April 2013, some eight months after IAC acquired About.com from The New York Times Co. for $300 million.
“We are a person who lives it and loves it,” Vogel says of the site’s travel experts. “We go super-deep on the topics we cover.”
The redesign of About Travel, which officials say is the third largest ad-supported content site in travel after TripAdvisor and Yahoo Travel, was part of an overall redesign of About.com. About Travel has more than half a million pieces of content, officials say.
The screenshot immediately below is of the About.com Travel homepage on August 13, 2012, courtesy of Wayback Machine, a day after IAC acquired About.com.
The redesigned homepage below is much more visually oriented, and puts more emphasis on About Travel’s freelance writers, who have transitioned from being “guides,” with editorial profiles below the fold under the prior format, into “experts” with more prominent positioning today.
Articles are still focused on mass tourism as opposed to off-the-beaten-path destinations. Stories featured on the About Travel homepage September 2 revolved around “outrageous resort suites,” travel apps that work offline, and the optimal times to head over to Disney World.
With more than 80 destination sections on the site, among the most-popular topics are California travel, New York City, Washington, D.C., family travel, budget travel, and theme parks.
Inspiration on the Homepage
About Travel’s homepage articles tend toward the inspirational, but a lot of the site traffic originates from Google, and there are plenty of critical articles on the site that users find from search, says Nick Michlewicz, About.com’s general manager, travel.
There is lots of related coverage, but the question is how “super deep” the site goes, as Vogel describes it.
Vogel argues that the About Travel experts do indeed offer balanced information.
“Experts won’t be very good experts if they tell you to go to a place and it sucks,” Vogel says.
Officials state About.com is a top 20 site with 85 million users, and as such it collects a huge amount of intent data, which can be used to make the site better for both users and for advertisers.
In travel, Vogel says, “we have to extract the intent to know what to give you next.” If the traveler was searching for hotels to avoid in San Francisco, he adds, “we need to understand you are actually searching for where to stay.”
The weath of data also helps Michlewicz recruit experts and choose topics. About Travel previously didn’t do much miles and points coverage, and now takes on the issue through the writings of Engadget deputy editor Zach Honig, for example.
About Travel has also added posts and expertise on vacation rentals, food, travel insurance and hurricanes.
More to Come
Vogel and Michlewicz both view About Travel as a work in progress, with Michlewicz saying the travel vertical will begin to distinguish itself more from other About.com verticals, such as health and money, in coming months.
“It feels like a travel site, but we are missing things,” Vogel acknowledges, citing maps, user-generated content, and booking engines, as areas of focus.
In that regard, Michlewicz says About Travel has a “huge goal” in finding the right travel booking partner or partners by the first quarter of 2015.
If travelers used the site to plan a trip, they will also access About Travel on mobile from the destination to look for things to do, Michlewicz says, adding that a tour booking engine or a partner that offers hotels and tours would be a possibility.
Meanwhile, officials say user engagement on About Travel has increased 10% to 15% since the redesign was quietly launched a few weeks ago.
Disclosure: Nick Michlewicz, About Travel’s general manager, is a Skift advisor.
Photo credit: The homepage of About.com's new travel vertical is image led, and tries to be inspirational. About.com