Ask Jeeves Snaps Up eTour

In a bid to beef up its user retention and marketing technology, question-and-answer search engine Ask Jeeves laid out an undisclosed amount of cash for Atlanta-based eTour on Tuesday.

Formerly known as ProLaunch.com, Atlanta-based eTour is best known for its incentivized surfing program, in which the company gave users “TourPoints” for visiting affiliated Web sites.

In addition to the program’s front-end, user registration and back-end technology, Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves will gain a reported 4.5 million registered users of the service.

The agreement with Ask Jeeves also hands over the technology and subscriber base of eTour’s email marketing practice. eTour said it had about 2.2 million subscribers to advertising-sponsored newsletters, and about 450,000 opt-in recipients for marketing offers.

The purchase also includes eTour’s deals with more than 230 vertical Web sites, which paid the company for being included in its “tours”, and an email advertising base consisting of what spokespeople said are primarily traditional marketers. Both ad vehicles serve a client base that includes Coca Cola, Mercedes, Nestle and Purina, according to Ask Jeeves.

Like many in the Web advertising space, eTour had been hard-hit by the industry-wide slowdown in revenues, and for some time rumors abounded about its demise. In addition, similarly propositioned pay-for-surf firms AllAdvantage and mValue closed their doors in recent months.

But Ask Jeeves thinks there’s a viable model in there somewhere, and said the purchase would beef up its bottom line with new revenue streams. In fact, spokespeople said the transaction should contribute to earnings in the fourth quarter, which is when the company plans to hit pro-forma profitability.

The money will come from paid “introductions” — when eTour/Ask Jeeves delivers a user to an advertiser’s Web site on the tour — and email marketing revenue.

“We’re most excited about our ability to quickly offer direct email marketing,” said Ask Jeeves chief executive Skip Battle. “In addition, eTour’s rich advertiser base has little overlap with our advertisers, giving us significant up-sell opportunities.”

Ask Jeeves has recently been making strides to expand its advertising products, announcing new ad units and rich media capabilities. By integrating eTour’s Web site delivery engine into its own search engine, the company said it would deliver sites tailored to users’ interests within its search results, beefing up its ad targeting in the process.

“eTour’s direct Web site delivery technology is a natural fit for Ask Jeeves given both companies’ focus,” said eTour’s Jim Lanzone, who is president and chief marketing officer of the firm. “The idea of Web sites being served to you is consistent with the Jeeves character, who acts as the ultimate guide to the Web.”

Through the acquired user registration system, the company said it should be able to glean richer demographic information from registrants than it had previously. Users will be encouraged to sign up through the service through topic-specific emails and members-only offers.

“Our users will benefit from a greater depth of vertical content topics that range from careers to apparel, and advertisers will benefit from new targeted ad products,” Battle said.

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