About.com Advances Guide Insight-Based Ad Strategy with Hard Numbers

About.com has begun to complement insights gleaned through its editorial guides with hard numbers in the hopes of wooing advertisers. Advancing a project launched last year, the New York Times Company-owned site has conducted in-house studies on topics including the recession and healthcare to better serve advertisers and agencies.

The site today revealed findings of a healthcare related study, which showed a significant portion of respondents would be interested in very specific information in ads for health products. Nearly 30 percent said info about a certain health condition would attract their attention, while 28 percent said info on side effects and safety of medications would spark their interest.

Key to the study, suggested Cella Irvine, president and CEO of the About Group, is “the positive impact of information oriented advertising.” She called the study, “part of a new approach we’ve been taking to help About.com advertisers understand the user mindset.”

The site’s sales team intends to add the new data to its arsenal to provide advertisers with a clearer sense of what About users might respond to; however, don’t expect About to suggest how advertisers might inform creative decisions based on the studies. “Advertisers are the experts in knowing how to communicate to their market,” said Irvine. “What we will tell them is what we hear from our users.”

According to About, pharmaceutical advertisers including Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer have advertised on the site. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is currently running ads alongside content about Crohns disease, and promoting its rheumatoid arthritis education site on About’s pages dedicated to the condition.

“We have seen an uptick recently in condition specific usage [of About.com],” said Irvine. “Our intuition is that the healthcare debate [over government healthcare reform] is making people more aware.”

Around a year ago, About started taking a more consultative approach to selling ads, in the hopes of distinguishing itself from lower priced ad networks. The company’s sales staff has been tapping its editorial guides for information about their niche audiences, and hired a director for its Insight Network to serve as a liaison between advertiser clients and guides.

The new study also found that 38 percent of participants had talked to a doctor after seeing a healthcare ad. In addition, 36 percent researched a drug in more detail online, 17 percent spoke to friends or family for drug recommendations, 13 percent visited a pharma company’s site, and 13 percent asked their doctor for a product sample or prescription.

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