Sprinks Inks Content-Ad Deal with AOL Properties

Paid listings provider Sprinks announced on Monday a deal with America Online for its contextual advertising links to appear on Netscape, CompuServe and AOL Instant Messenger content pages.

The multiyear deal places ContentSprinks text ads on a variety of sections within both the Netscape and CompuServe portals, including in the sports, news, television and celebrities sections, as well as on their home pages. On Netscape, a Sprinks listing appears in a “Sponsored Link of the Day” heading on the homepage, and three listings appear on the homepages of certain sections. Text listings will also appear on the AIM Today homepage.

For Sprinks, which is a division of Primedia’s About, the deal is the latest in a string of quiet wins for its contextual-advertising product, ContentSprinks, in the face of more high-profile offerings from Google and Overture Services.

“It says we have a quantum leap on everyone in this market,” said Lance Podell, Sprinks’ general manager. “I believe it’s a validation of our focus on content.”

Contextual advertising is thought to be the next frontier for the wildly successful paid listings market. Unlink paid search, where keyword-targeted text links are provided in response to search queries, content-targeted listings appear within regular Web pages on content sites. For example, a news story about a Boston Bruins hockey game might have links at the bottom from advertisers selling team merchandise or tickets to future games.

Sprinks takes a divergent approach to serving content-targeted ads, however. While Google and Overture use algorithmic search to determine what ad would best fit on a content page, Sprinks maps the content page to its taxonomy of over 1,000 categories. This approach delivers more relevant ads from Sprinks’ 12,000 advertisers, Podell said.

“Google’s a great search company, but we’re a great content company,” he said, referring to Sprinks’ gestation on the About network of content sites.

While Google made a big splash with the debut of its Content-Targeted AdWords offering, Sprinks has built a bigger distribution network, sewing up listing deals with Forbes.com, CBS MarketWatch, and iVillage. Yahoo! has tested ContentSprinks in some areas of the portal, currently in its health section. Podell said he anticipates Yahoo! would sign on to a deal shortly.

While an important win, Sprinks will not get the bigger prize: an agreement to distribute its listings to AOL’s 28 million subscribers. Podell said he expects Sprinks will grow its relationship with AOL, both deeper in its current implementation, and into other properties.

AOL has been a big battleground for paid listings companies. Google signed an agreement with AOL back in May of last year, which placed its paid search results on AOL, CompuServe, AOL.COM and Netscape. That deal followed the expiration of an earlier paid search agreement with Overture.

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