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Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel At Cannes And Much Ado

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During the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last week, I joined Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel to talk about his three-plus-year labor of love, transitioning the brand into Dotdash. (Dotdash is the letter A in morse code, by the way.)

While Vogel, who joined the company in 2014, was the lead mastermind behind the change in brand for the IAC-owned company, our chat revealed that last month’s name change announcement was merely icing on the cake for what seems to be a genius reinvention. Vogel convinced Barry Diller’s IAC Corp that the new would be better off breaking into six distinct brands under Dotdash, which now includes verywell for health, the balance for personal finance, tripsavvy for travel, the spruce for home/food, ThoughtCo. for education and Lifewire for all things technology.

Aaron Kwittken: Why break up the old into six branded sites under the Dotdash umbrella?

Neil Vogel: Sixty-five-plus percent of our traffic comes from search, and there is no lying when it comes to search data. The reason our business works is because it is all about “moments”. We have people on our site at the exact moment they need to do something: answer questions, solve problems, get inspiration for some hobby, cook something, make something, fix something. That is what we do.

Kwittken: What was the theory behind the rebrand? Why the name Dotdash, and how did you come up with the six-vertical strategy?

Vogel: I got to four years ago and it was a mess, in need of a wholesale redo. Along the way, we learned that the content, written by experts, still had a lot of value. If we cleaned this up, created a user experience that people and advertisers alike could understand, this could work.

We spent our first 18 months gutting the place every person at the VP level and above is new. And 18 months later, we launched a new It worked for a while, but we quickly hit a ceiling with premium advertisers. We went back to IAC and explained that there was no place for us to grow anymore. We asked them to give us six to nine months, to launch these brands.

Kwittken: How did you come up with the new brand architecture?

Vogel: We used our own data to make a new taxonomy and created new websites from scratch.  Then we decided to name our sites after the feeling you get when you are done using it. Positive branding.

We had to get comfortable with the fact that there was not going to be a narrative until we were done with the verticals. Until we were all vertical, there couldn't be an overarching Dotdash. In health, for instance, we threw 50,000 of our 100,000 articles in the garbage. Actual human beings read all of the remaining 50,000 pieces of content, and a team of doctors read 30,000 of those articles.

We built something that looked nothing like anything in the space. It’s clean, it’s bright, it’s modern. There is half the number of ads. The information is as authoritative as WebMD. I actually think it’s better, because of how we write to people.

Kwittken: Where did the name Dotdash come from?

 Vogel: When we were done, we knew that we had to tell the world that was something different. We weren’t even sure we were going to change the name when we started.

We tried to be thoughtful about the name, like we were about the others. always had a red dot in its logo. We kept the dot, because we kept the good parts of Our content is fantastic, our data is fantastic. We thought of the dash as punctuation for moving forward, or what comes next. In Morse code, dot dash is a letter, so we kept the A from About and it was Dotdash. It was a word people would remember.

Kwittken: What have you learned so far from this experience?

Vogel: As a Phillies and 76ers fan, I learned a long time ago that you have to trust the process. I wouldn’t necessarily want to do that two and a half years again, but we learned every possible thing that you could learn about the value of data, how people use the internet and intent-driven traffic.

When we were the old, we had all ingredients for a cake, except branding. That was the part we needed, and we really nailed that.

Kwittken: Were you surprised by the patience IAC had? Because that’s a long time.

Vogel: IAC is not media people, they are internet people, so they understand about pivots and radical solutions.

And, they do a lot of different things at the same time. Barry Diller has created almost $60 billion worth of public companies through IAC. Everything that we did and every problem we had, they have seen before in some way.

Kwittken: What have your measures of success been so far?

 Vogel: Our Commscore has grown 18%in the last two months across all of our brands. Our Google Analytics numbers are up more than 50% in sessions year over year. Our Commscore number blend is around 60 million, and it was 40 million two months ago.

Each of these brands is really resonating. Before, companies were hesitant to put their brands next to Now the balance is beautiful, because we don’t look like anything else on the internet.

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