Ask.com Purchase Could Redefine Ad Sales and Targeting for Dictionary.com

Ask.com’s acquisition of Dictionary.com publisher Lexico Publishing Group means more ad inventory for Ask and a full-fledged sales force for Lexico.

“From a monetization standpoint, because of their traffic and growth, there’s so much inbound interest” in Lexico sites from advertisers, said Jim Safka, CEO of IAC-owned Ask.com. “But they haven’t had an ad sales force; they’ve had an ad sales guy.” Now, he said, Lexico will be able to take advantage of Ask.com’s ad sales team.

The reasoning behind the deal is straightforward. The fact that people use Ask.com to seek reference information makes Lexico sites an obvious fit. The company publishes Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com, and Reference.com.

“On one hand, it’s overnight increasing our Ask network reach…that’s big,” said Safka. “Number two, over 30 percent of all the queries on Ask are reference related…It’s right in the wheelhouse of what people come to us for.” Safka also stressed the acquisition was well-thought out. “This wasn’t a wild swing of the bat,” he said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Today when users search for a term on Ask.com, the results page displays links to various sources, related multimedia, and encyclopedia or dictionary definitions from publishers such as Houghton Mifflin. In the future, definitions will be provided by Dictionary.com.

“To the extent we start to own the content…we pick up the monetization on the other end,” Safka told ClickZ News.

Lexico sites will also get the Ask.com treatment, displaying advanced search capabilities offered on Ask. “We’re going to make it much more three dimensional,” he said.

The buy will also expand Ask.com’s ad inventory, boosting reach for its own advertisers as well as revenue through its relationship with Google. Ask.com late last year extended a deal with Google to run its AdSense ads on Ask and other IAC sites.

Safka expects higher revenues from Lexico site ads as a result of the acquisition. “We’re gong to be able to target much more closely depending on what the search terms are.”

In March, the Ask Network attracted 55.4 million unique users, according to comScore. Ask.com claims Lexico sites grew 29 percent year-over-year to 15.6 million monthly unique users last month. Notably, Dictionary.com sites hit comScore’s Top 50 Web properties list in September 2007 with 15.7 million uniques, and they’ve failed to make that roster since. According to Ask, the acquisition will expand its user base 11 percent to over 145 million monthly unique users across the globe.

When ClickZ last reported on Lexico in 2006, the firm looked forward to bolstering its sales force and selling more ads directly, as opposed to relying on ad networks. At the time, the firm sold about half its inventory directly. Its sites attract 18- to 24-year-old students and at-work professionals seeking definitions and S.A.T. caliber words.

Safko indicated that Lexico staffers will remain in their Long Beach, CA, office. He didn’t offer any information regarding executive changes at either company in conjunction with the deal. “We haven’t worked out our integration plan yet,” he explained.

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