Oodle Pushes on Featured Listings, Price Comparisons

Oodle, the listing aggregator service, is completing its transition from a Google dependent site with the rollout today of a comparison feature for autos. Real estate and rentals will be rolled out next. In October, Oodle made its first move away from Google reliance by establishing a “featured listings” program that charges the top three featured listings on a cost-per-click basis.

CEO Craig Donato says featured listings now make up the lion’s share of the company’s current revenues. The company also makes non-Google money with private-label deals for such entities as WashingtonPost.com, SignOnSanDiego.com, BackPage and, as of last week, Local.com. More distribution deals are expected to roll out soon among Oodle targets such as newspapers, Yellow Pages, as well as TV and radio stations.

Yet, the company’s core competency remains its crawling of the Web. “We’re very efficient at crawling databases,” says Donato. “We have every music group, every sporting events.  So if people want Sting tickets, or they say they’re free on Friday, we can show them what they can do. ”

The company also meets demands based on what its two million unique visitors from its universe of 358 localities and 494 colleges are actually using. “We saw that people are aggressively browsing by picture,” Donato says. “So we introduced a ‘picture gallery’ view. And people can vote on ‘who’s cute,’ etc.”

The new comparison shopping effort came from watching what users did when they hunted for cars. “We saw that the first thing they do” is compare prices. “So we’re providing a pricing guide. How much does a 2004 Honda Accord cost? Compared to 2003?” Users can also set up pricing alerts and search at the city or even neighborhood level.

Using the price comparison also enables users to see the major pricing discrepancies in different metros. That’s helpful for all the people who are used to traveling to the exurbs or even other states to get their cars. “We can see a lot of things. Cars in New York are $1,000 cheaper than San Francisco,” he says.

Donato explains that the comparison engine dovetails with the featured listing business model, since there is a lot of overlap in auto listings, and if a car is featured two or three times, Oodle will list each site, but featured listings will win the top ranks.

What the comparison engine doesn’t have, however, is a comprehensive database. While there are 4.5 million cars listed, and it has at least some of the majors (Cars.com) it relies heavily on second-tier sites such as Backpage, Carsdirect, Automart and Auto Extra. A car listing is a car listing, but we know that some of the major portals, such as AutoTrader, have not given permission to link in.

Another point of contention: While the comparison engine and tools such as alerts are really compelling  take a look  they also potentially cut into the traffic of sites that formerly were satisfied that Oodle linked their ads back to them. Oodle still links back. But it is now a destination site in itself. We’ll see what kind of resistance these sites put up. The way things are going with coopetition, however, I suspect it won’t be very much.

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