About.com, the website bought by the New York Times Company for $410 million in 2005, eliminated 15 of its 22 editorial positions, Business Insider reported Tuesday.
The site says the decision was made as part of an effort to focus on the About.com “Guides,” individuals who manage the site’s more than 900 topic pages.
“We are restructuring the About.com Guide Operations team to focus on operational efficiencies that will position us well for the future,” Kristin Mason, director of public relations for About Group, wrote in an email to Adweek.
Mason added that About.com would add 10 new positions that will be “more focused on providing broad support to the Guides and maintaining quality.”
For the last two quarters, the Times Company has reported deep financial losses at About.com—an asset that accounts for more than 15 percent of the company’s stock value. The decline has been attributed to algorithm changes made by Google in February, which lowered the search ranking of “low quality” sites like About that are considered content farms. The Times Company had warned of just such a possibility in its 2010 annual report, in which it said, "The About Group depends upon arrangements with Google, and any changes in this relationship could adversely affect its business, financial condition, and results of operation."
After the first quarter, New York Times Company CEO Janet Robinson told financial analysts that About’s total revenues had declined 10 percent and ad revenues had also dropped 10 percent, “mainly due to a decrease in cost-per-click advertising.” By the second quarter, total revenues had plummeted 17 percent, due to further drops in cost-per-click and display advertising.
“Google has really hurt these [sites] that have been living by Google,” Edward Atorino, a media analyst with Benchmark Co. LLC, said. “They just pulled the rug out from under these guys . . . About is one of those, and they’ve got to refigure out how to do business or they’re gone.”