TOP NEWS

Carving An Internet Niche With FamousBirthdays.com

Story by Benjamin F. Kuo

 

You often hear the advice: do one thing, and do it well. That one thing, in the case of Los Angeles-based FamousBirthdays.com, is creating an online resource all about--you guessed it--famous birthdays. We caught up with founder Evan Britton about how his company has created the top site in the Internet niche of celebrity birthdays, and how that intense focus on a single niche--and user experience- has paid off for the company in terms of user engagement and growth.

What is FamousBirthdays.com?

Evan Britton: People love looking up who was born on their birthday. It's one of the most popular things they like to see, to see what birthday they have in common with the stars. That was the genesis of the site. We own the celebrity birthday niche--we're first in Google for searching for celebrity birthdays on every day of the year. We're really focused on providing the best experience for that niche. However, we realized we wanted to make it bigger than that, so we've recently been working on things, which has tripled our traffic. It's up 30 to 40 percent, and we had 2 million visits in May, all organic. Six months ago we only had 650,000 visitors.

What things have you been doing to grow?

Evan Britton: There are two things we've done with FamousBirthdays that has fueld our organic growth. The first, is popularity rankings. On every profile page, we have a like button, plus we also have a search box. When people search for a celebrity birthday, or like a profile page, we count that as a vote. From that, we're able to give each famous person a popularity ranking on our site. That allows us to figure out that Justin Bieber is the number one person on the site, Barack Obama is number eight, Michael Jackson is number twenty, and so on. To make it much more engaging, we also do that for each birthday. Before, you might look up May 20th as a birthday, and we'd sort by age. Instead, we're now sorting by popularity. We use that same popularity algorithm for other categories. For example, the most popular people born in Texas, the most popular people who are Geminis, the most popular people for each profession--like the most popular comedian or most popular country singer. With our exhaustive database of celebrities, we've been able to categorize and add popularity, making the site much more engaging. The best part of this is that the users are driving this. We can even do things like tell you the most popular, Gemini basketball player, yet another way to connect with famous people.

What's your background and how did you decide to start the site?

Evan Britton: I'm an Internet market guru. I love the web and love Internet marketing. Our company had actually acquired a few different websites about two and a half years back. What we tried to do, was build up each site, and make each of them great. We realized afer 2011 that we were spreading ourselves thin by trying to make five to ten websites great. So, at the beginning of 2012, we picked a website that we owned, to make it awesome. We also sold one of our largest sites to a private equity firm in the real estate niche, and narrowed our focus down to FamousBirthdays.com. I figured out that the key for us was to not spread ourselves thin with a variety of assets, and instead, to hone in on one site. Trying to do too much can be a flaw, and we found trying to make ten different sites great just doesn't move the needle.

What was it that made your realize you should focus on one site versus multiple sites?

Evan Britton: We had worked our tails off in 2011, but at the end of the year, all of our sites were flat. It was discouraging. Our revenues were still cranking, but it was discouraging that after all of that hard work, the traffic was flat. However, the Internet has changed. Although the web offers amazing chances for organic growth, you have to do something amazing. If you look at Google Panda, they want you to be the best possible resource for a specific thing. That's how you do well on Google, you become the best resources and site out there for a specific thing. For users, we needed them to really come back to our site, and engage, as opposed to just coming once. So, we needed to do something awesome, instead of just doing a lot of things that were just solid. We realized that the way the web was heading, was that if you don't do something amazing, someone will do it better. You have to focus on one site, and do it great.

Does that bring up issues with finicky search engine algorithm changes at Google?

Evan Britton: We really don't think about it. What we do think about, is creating the best user experience possible, and just let it all play out. I think that's what Google wants, and that's what Panda was all about. They're focused on increased rankings for providing lots of value. It seems pretty elementary, but that's basically what they were looking for, and at the end of the day, what the user is looking for. That makes my job easier. It's really about the UX and experience, and that experience is great. I think search engines will take note. One thing that Google has mentioned is that brand search traffic matters. For example, if more people search for socaltech each month, and more users are liking your site, that's an easy way for Google to see that a site has value. If people stop searching for your site every month, then they see that your site has less value. So, if you are getting branded search, that makes the site awesome. So, we don't worry about Google's short term changes, and instead focus on quality and user experience. The last thing, is the less you rely on Google the better you do. If users are coming to you directly, that's better.

How does your revenue model work? Is this all online ads?

Evan Britton: That's our model. We work with Google to help monetize our traffic, and we're also working with a variety of other networks. Google is the primary driver. The good thing about that is it's very scalable. We get wired with a payment at the end of the month, and never have to worry about collecting, and don't have to talk to advertisers. It's much easier to monetize, than it is to drive traffic on the web and start a web site. Google will syndicate ads to a site with five visitors or 50 million visitors, the challenge really is getting good quality traffic. We never have to worry about monetization, and outsource that to Google. Instead, we build a very good product, get organic traffic, and those networks pay well. Our revenue is solid. We do have to be careful with where we place our ads, because of the user experience. However, we are here in Santa Monica, and we are a celebrity and entertainment site, and the next step for us in monetization is to get direct partnerships and deals with entertainment advertisers. That's definitely on our roadmap.

What's next for your company?

Evan Britton: People love learning about famous people. There are other sites where you can learn about famous people, but you have to read ten to fifteen paragraphs to find that information. That might be good if you're writing a book report, but people love quick facts. They want a birthday, a birthplace, some quick things about being famous, about their family life. That's where we're going, to be the place to learn quick facts about famous people in a precise, engaging way. That also particularly fits well on mobile. Our mobile traffic is up 450% over the last twelve months. Quick facts on famous people is very well tailored to the mobile user.

Also, we're currently at 30,000 famous people on our site. Our plan is to get to 50,000 by the end of the year with quick profiles. The way we find them is actually based on our search data and users. If a user comes and searches for an up-and-coming actor or rugby player, and they're not on our site, we'll add them. The key is we're using that user input to not just rank everyone, but also to see what people want to add. We are trying to block out all the noise and try to be the number one resource on the web for people who want to learn about famous people. That's what gets me out of bed every day.

Thanks!