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Big Ticket Purchase Advice Growing on Web

NYTimes reports that the great eyeball chase is back in full swing. And it does not matter that the eyeballs may not be buying anything. With online advertising revenues growing quickly, new information-rich sites of all kinds are mushrooming across the Web.

Sites devoted to big-ticket purchases � particularly cars, real estate and travel � are feverishly refining features and marketing strategies in an effort to attract the growing number of consumers searching the Web for buying advice. Unlike sites like Amazon.com, they do not actually sell any products, but they make a good living selling ads to deep-pocketed companies that do.

And a growing lineup of deep-pocketed advertisers are looking for those consumers. "It's a good time to be a publisher online," said Carrie A. Johnson, an analyst with Forrester Research. "There's a ridiculous thirst for advertising" on the Internet, she said. Online merchants paid 33 percent more for advertising last year than the year before, Ms. Johnson said, with costs expected to rise further.

For high-margin, big-ticket items, the competition for eyeballs is even more intense. Take Internet Brands, perhaps best known as the parent company of CarsDirect.com, which connects prospective car buyers with dealers.

The privately held company, which publishes 14 Web sites focused on real estate (realestateabc.com), travel (vacationhomes.com), and cars (auto.com), has expanded rapidly over the last two years by creating or buying sites in each category.

Zillow.com is perhaps the best example of how an upstart can attract attention quickly. Started late last year, the site features a single service: estimating the market value of a property for homeowners and prospective homebuyers. After the site drew attention from blogs and other sites though its ability to produce home valuations quickly, Zillow's search engine rankings soared, along with its traffic. It is now the ninth-most popular site in the real estate category, according to comScore.

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