A team of former Excite executives this week debuted three beta sites for local search alternative Oodle, an aggregator and vertical search engine for classified listings.
Oodle's primary source of ad revenue initially will be contextual ads from Google's AdSense program, which appear on the results pages. Future revenue models under consideration include upselling enhanced listings to display them more prominently, as eBay does with its bolding and highlighting options.
Should Oodle gain an audience, advertisers on the sites the engine crawls should also see a traffic boost. Currently, the company obtains listings from local newspapers, Craigslist, and vertical classifieds sites like Monster.com and Cars.com. Oodle also gets a data feed from eBay, and is in talks with other providers to do the same with their listings.
"By making it easy to get a single view of the entire market of local listings, Oodle will attract more buyers to online classifieds. This, in turn, benefits everyone in the category," said Craig Donato, the company's CEO.
Donato's own cumbersome experience using online classifieds to furnish a vacation home led to the company's founding, according to Oodle lore. The difficulty of finding and keeping up with multiple sources of fast-moving listings led Donato to the idea of making them available in one place.
"To date, innovations associated with online classifieds have been focused on the advertiser, making listings cheaper and easier to place," Donato said. "Oodle is the first service to focus on the needs of the buyer. Whether you are looking for a job, housecleaner, used car or snowboard -- you want to see all the local listings, quickly find what you need, and jump on great deals when they pop up."
Donato does not see his company's model conflicting with that of the original classifieds providers, since Oodle is not selling listings directly to advertisers. Listing providers can also generate revenue by selling Oodle's enhanced listings through its affiliate partner program.
Donato said Oodle is looking into more vertical listings that appeal to smaller niche audiences -- a plan to reach the "long tail." The idea is to reach customers that are interested in non-traditional topics, who have the potential to bring in a significant amount of revenue from several infrequent transactions, instead of targeting the mainstream customers who are easier to find in fewer places.
Besides aggregating the listings in one place, Oodle applies its technology to "clean" the listings -- estimating the quality of a listing, detecting and eventually rejecting spam listings, removing duplicate listings and embedding URLs as clickable links.
The next step is "attribution," where abbreviations are expanded, and listings are cross-checked against custom databases to determine relevant facts that should be included. For example, a listing for puppies should include breed, gender and color information.
This is also the stage where location is determined from words within the listings, as well as phone numbers or ZIP codes included. The company unveiled beta versions in Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia, with plans to bring the service to eight other metro areas by the end of the year.
Donato ran product marketing at Excite, and several other Excite alumni have joined Oodle, including Scott Kister, Faith Sedlin, and Brett Bullington.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
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