About Shapes Up for Health Content Expansion

When users hit the Web with questions about that weird pain in their wrist, or the cancer a loved one was just diagnosed with, About.com wants to be there with reliable answers. The online guide site is focusing heavily on building out its health and fitness content, intensifying its health editorial review process, and developing audio, video and custom branded content to attract both consumers and advertisers.

Users visiting various areas within About’s Health and Fitness category will find links to the site’s Heartburn Help section, which is branded with ads from Astra Zeneca, maker of heartburn medication Nexium. A just-launched audio podcast about dealing with heartburn sponsored by the pharmaceutical firm is available for download from About’s Heartburn Help section, as well as from Apple’s iTunes site. The audio clip, part of a six-part series, features host Dr. Mona Khanna, M.D., M.P.H., and starts off with a note from Astra Zeneca reminding consumers that the company can help if they can’t afford health insurance.

“We really view this as a prototype for what we’ll do going forward,” said Marjorie Martin, About’s GM, Health.

A new content area developed specifically for Forest Pharmaceuticals’ anti-depression drug brand Lexapro launched about two weeks ago. The site section combines information from other About guide pages with content created specifically for the branded section. It also links to self-diagnostic quizzes on the Lexapro site.

Because About’s related guide content is already prominent in search engine results, explained Martin, “From a sponsor standpoint, it provides a highly targeted audience.” Martin expects the site to develop more custom sections for advertisers in the future.

The company partners with iVillage-owned health and medical content production firm Healthology, which provides video to About on topics such as high blood pressure, indoor allergies and performance anxiety. About expects to extend its video offerings to more than 2,000 videos by the end of the year, according to About CEO Scott Meyer, who noted, “We will be adding a lot more health video.”

“Healthcare marketers can unleash a cascade of value by extending their brands with partnerships and services that create an experience,” suggested Forrester Research’s June 2006 “Topic Overview: Consumer Marketing in Healthcare” report. Data cited in the report showed an average of 5 percent of U.S. consumers who took prescription drugs researched prescription drugs online but purchased them offline.

About’s health and medical advertiser clients also include Nicorette FreshMint, health plan provider Kaiser Permanente, P&G’s Health Expressions, and Protonix, a heartburn remedy from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. About will focus its health category expansion on heart disease, cancer and women’s health coverage.

To accommodate its health content push, the site will grow its health editorial staff to three people, and plans on hiring a physician to approve all health content. “From the medical side of things, we can represent that it’s signed off by someone with a medical degree,” said Meyer.

The physician review will entail what Martin described as a light touch. “We want to keep the warmth and the editorial voices of the guides,” she explained.

About’s Health and Fitness section was ranked third in terms of unique audience according to Nielsen//NetRatings’ July 2006 top 10 list of health, fitness and nutrition Web destinations. WebMD ranked highest, followed by MSN Health. AOL Health and Drugstore.com came in at numbers four and five, respectively.

Hitwise places About’s health content visits far lower on the totem pole. Based on the percentage of total health category visits during the week ending August 12, the Web measurement firm ranked About’s health section at number 592. The top five health and medical information sites for that week in order were WebMD, MSN Health and Fitness, MayoClinic.com, MedicineNet.com and Yahoo Health.

Health content visits overall reached about .75 percent of all visits on the Internet for the week ending August 12, according to Matt Tatham, Hitwise’s manager of media relations. He noted that traffic to health content spiked in early September last year and in the beginning of this year, probably coinciding with back-to-school time and New Year’s resolutions.

In keeping with its mission to grow its health content, About is looking to bring other brands and services into the fold, according to Meyer. The firm also plans to unveil a graphic re-design of the site soon, and aims to broaden its presence in Europe and China.

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