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By: Gigaom
May 14, 2012 at 14:48 PM EDT
DoubleClick co-founder targets publishers with content-meets-commerce service
In the mid-1990s, DoubleClick co-founder and CEO Kevin O’Connor developed a platform for data-driven advertising. With his latest startup, FindTheBest, he’s aiming to do the same thing for content.

In the mid-1990s, DoubleClick co-founder and CEO Kevin O’Connor developed a platform for data-driven advertising. With his latest startup, FindTheBest, he’s aiming to do the same thing for content.

Backed by $6 million from Kleiner, Perkins Caufield & Byers, FindTheBest is a comparison engine for everything from gadgets to sports equipment to financial advisors and colleges. Powered by a combination of proprietary technology and human curation, it sources data from a wide range of public databases, primary sources (such as manufacturer websites) and individual expert users.  But instead of just aggregating data for users, the site organizes and structures the data, which is vetted by a team of researchers, so that users can use it to make buying decisions.

For example, you can search for cars by make, model and year, but also fuel type, horsepower and seat capacity. If you’re comparing colleges, you can filter by degree type, location and religion, but a sliding scale (like the one you might have used on Kayak to specify departure times) also lets you look for schools with an average SAT or ACT score within a certain range.

It launched in 2010 as a standalone website for consumers, but now it’s syndicating its content on publisher sites as customized, vertical-specific comparison widgets and subdomain websites. In the first quarter of the year, it closed 30 deals with publisher sites, including VentureBeat and TechCrunch. Last week, its first partnership with Bonnier’s SKI magazine went live, and other Bonnier titles, including Cycle World, are expected to follow. Those publisher deals have helped FindTheBest increase traffic (to its site and subdomains on publisher sites) from 2.2 unique visitors in August to 8 million unique visitors this month, the company said. According to comScore (which only tracks traffic directly to FindTheBest.com), the company has grown from about 400,000 monthly unique visitors last April to 1.66 million monthly uniques this April.

As publishers look for new ways to monetize content and keep readers on their sites, FindTheBest says it offers content that will excite advertisers, engage readers, and potentially provide SEO juice (the comparison pages are optimized for search engines). Publishers pay nothing upfront but FindTheBest and publishers split advertising revenue (from display advertising, sponsorships, ecommerce affiliate partnerships and lead generation from its subdomains and widgets) 50-50.

On partner publisher sites, the FindTheBest comparison pages are linked off the home page as “product guides.” The thinking is that if people are reading content about specific topics, such as electronics, skiing or cycling, they’re getting close to a buying mindset.

What about the line between content and commerce? “There’s always got to be a separation between church and state,” said O’Connor. He said FindTheBest does that by taking consumers to a separate webpage or distinct widget, which provides a break between the reader experience and a potential transaction — rather than hosting direct links from story pages to shopping sites, as some publishers do.

Conversations about blending content and commerce are nothing new, he points out. But the realities of monetizing content in the new media landscape are causing online publishers to mix the advertising and editorial sides of the business more aggressively. Earlier this month, for example, Gawker said that it planned to make content-driven commerce, from affiliate marketing to in-page transactions, a main growth area for its company. A leaked memo from the company included the “historical tidbit” that the original business model for Gizmdo was affiliate fees from the purchase of gadgets through Amazon. In December, the memo continued, the company made $70,000 from Amazom, “without really trying.” But with the company’s scale, it plans to ramp up e-commerce revenue. Thrillist is another new media company that has drawn headlines for its content-driven commerce approach.

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