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Google Buys Sprinks, Inks About.com Partnership

Google bought paid-listings provider Sprinks from Primedia Friday and signed a deal to provide keyword advertising on About.com.

Google, Mountain View, CA, and Primedia agreed to a four-year deal for Google to supply paid-search and contextual listings from its 150,000 advertisers on Primedia's About.com information portal. Google paid listings also will appear on the Web sites of Primedia's stable of 127 niche magazines including titles like McCall's Quick Quilts and Civil War Times.

Sprinks was the supplier of paid listings on About.com and some of Primedia's magazine sites.

Financial terms of the Sprinks deal were not disclosed. Google and Primedia will share revenue paid by an advertiser each time a user clicks on its listing.

The deal comes as Google reportedly is preparing for a public stock offering that could value the company at more than $15 billion. The Financial Times reported Oct. 24 that Google is considering an online auction to allocate the IPO shares, with a public offering as early as March.

The acquisition leaves in doubt Sprinks' future as a paid-listings provider. A Google spokesman said the company is “still working through all of the details” and could not say whether the Sprinks distribution network would survive. A Primedia representative declined to make Sprinks executives available for comment.

Sprinks, formed in November 2002 within the About unit, relied on its parent site for much of its reach. Still, the paid-listings company concluded a few distribution deals, particularly for its ContentSprinks contextual listings offering that debuted in March. ContentSprinks had distribution partners including Forbes.com, MSNBC.com and MarketWatch.com, plus more than 15,000 advertisers.

MarketWatch.com spokesman Dan Silmore said he was unsure whether the deal would affect the site's ContentSprinks' listings, which appear on CBS MarketWatch's front page.

“We're going to be eager to see what happens,” he said.

Representatives for MSNBC.com and Forbes.com said they did not know whether the deal would affect distribution on their sites.

Adding About.com will improve Google's distribution, particularly for its AdSense content-targeted paid listings. About remains one of the top content sites on the Internet, drawing 25.4 million visitors in August, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

Like AdSense and Overture Service's Content Match, ContentSprinks displays relevant text links from advertisers on content pages. But unlike Google and Overture, Sprinks matches the listings not through algorithmic search technology but by selling content categories on Web sites.

“I don't see it as a technology play,” said Kevin Lee, chief executive of search marketing firm Did-it.com. “They made a case to Primedia that the cash flow would be higher with them than their own internal property.”

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