Fast Chat: Ask.com CEO Discusses About.com Acquisition

Doug Leeds on the $300 million deal and what's next

The $300 million cash deal made Sunday by Barry Diller's IAC/InteractiveCorp to buy About.com will add some necessary content and authority to IAC's reinvented Ask.com property while making others in the Q&A realm nervous. Adweek sat down with Ask.com CEO Doug Leeds to talk about the deal, what's next for About.com and how this deal distinguishes them from the dreaded "content farms."

Adweek: IAC came late to the About negotiations. Was this deal due in part to the fact that About.com and Ask.com made more sense together than Answers.com? Or was this a pure money play and IAC simply outbid?

I honestly have zero idea. That is all hidden behind the so-called wall of secrecy. That's solely on the New York Times Company. I do know we bid what we did because we believe that About will bring the right synergies to our business and we believe they are worth it. I don't know if they cared about the synergies. Our deal was all cash, which may have helped, but I can only speculate. 

You've said that Ask.com has had its eyes on About.com for a long time. How did you finally come to the decision to buy it?

For us it was about how do we get an answer to content that we can put on Ask that helps you get the whole picture of the story? When we do that, users love us and we have a lot of users. What we don't have is a lot of users who are coming back to us frequently. Our problem is getting people to come back more often, and it became very clear that content was the way to do that. High-quality content, not crap content farm stuff. We started then to look around for high-quality content, and of all the commercial content on the Web, About content is the best. It made a ton of sense to say, "Let's use this content on About and drive that back to Ask while using Ask's users to do the same for About's great stuff."

Do you think this traffic plan will help About generate the kind of revenue we were seeing in the past before it took the hit from Google's Panda algorithm?

About has stabilized their business already. They took some hits from Panda, and most of their business comes from search engines now. But their own efforts and new releases from Google to Panda have driven their traffic back to where it was before. They are growing again, and when you include mobile, there is some incredible growth. They solved the declining problem before they bought them. Had About really been declining, we wouldn't have bought them.

So what's next for About?

We've been working hard to build Ask.com's consumer brand, and I think the same thing can happen for About. One of the things that has really hurt them is that they've been lumped in with these content farms, which they aren't. They're not a content farm; they don't build content trying to reverse-engineer Google's algorithms. They hire experts to write content for users. It's a publishing model. But they haven't focused on their brand. We know how to do that at Ask.

Will there be any merging of the two brands into one comprehensive property?

The brands will stay separate. Ask is kind of like a Q&A library by browsing the stack and looking at the spines and taking a book out whenever you want, but our job at Ask is the place to go for an answer. About is a like a world-class collection of books that we are adding to the library. It makes the library better, but there is still that fundamental difference between the library and the book, which is a reason we're keeping it separated.