Answers Expands Social, Ad Services

Answers-Answers, a network of Q&A sites, will build out social, personalized and ad services on desktop and mobile, based partly on a minority investment made by TA Associates, a global growth private equity firm. Terms of the investment were not disclosed. Answers previously raised capital from Summit Partners, which maintains a minority stake as well.

The product road map transitions Answers into a platform rather than a Web site, turning the home page into a personalized destination based on the visitor through user-generated content, vertical search and social media, and a targeted ad strategy with a dedicated sales staff. The platform will sit at the intersection between search and social.

Integrating Answers with Facebook and personalizing the home page when site visitors log in will be the next step to building out the platform. The integration will allow users to post questions and answers, tying it back to their Facebook account. Personalization means that users, when logged in, will receive information from categories that were previously viewed.

Turning Answers into a platform means having a dedicated sales staff to bring in direct advertisers. Today, the ad-supported model relies on advertising networks. David Karandish, CEO of Answers, envisions any brand or advertising agency having the ability to come directly to the company through a dedicated sales staff.

Karandish estimates about 100 million unique visitors monthly. On Answers.com, approximately 60% come from the U.S., and the remainder are international, he said. A suite of Facebook apps get about 35 million active users. There are about 150 million registered users across all the company's properties.

A dedicated ad sales team will require the ability to segment ad units by verticals, so Answers will begin to slice up the content by category.

"It was difficult to tell how much traffic ran through the site in any one specific category until we analyzed the data and found 12% of 100 million unique visitors are the auto category," Karandish said. "It shows we didn't do a good job telling agencies and media buyers about the strengths of the sites, so we're working on making it easy to do category buys."

Aside from targeting and retargeting ad services, Answers will also launch a sponsored Q&A section, calling it a clearly labeled "answertorial" service. As an example, GEICO might sponsor a set of auto insurance questions, where it provides an "engaging message" in something other than a banner display unit.

Answers, founded in 1998, emerged as a plug-in for Internet Explorer. The business morphed into a reference answers site, combining more than 250 data sources to help users find information on reference topics, including nondigitized sources. Then Wiki Answers emerged, growing to about 100 million unique monthly visitors.

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