Mob rule: Crowdsourced listmaker Ranker grows by 300% in 18 months

By Michael Carney , written on October 19, 2012

From The News Desk

Los Angeles-based interest graph company Ranker is based on the theory that the best answer to any question is one drawn from “the wisdom of the crowd.” Currently, the site receives more than 5.4 million unique visitors a month – up threefold from a year ago – who view and create ranked lists over an extremely wide variety of subjects.

Ranker aggregates this data around subjects like Best TV Shows and Best Basketball Player into its CrowdRankings database, which founder and CEO Clark Benson describes as “Yelp for everything else.”

The power of Ranker from a business perspective is its ability to draw connections between various topics that can drive advertising decisions. For example, by combining lists for Best Movies of 2012, Best Cereals, and Best Luxury Sedan, the company could tell marketers that people who like The Dark Knight Rises also like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lexus.

This powerful data is otherwise extremely difficult to gather, which is what has allowed market research companies like Nielson and Kantar to drive a $33.5 billion dollar per year industry.

Ranker’s current interest graph has more than 3 million “edges,” or connections between items, and grows every time users vote on a list. The three-year-old startup is seeing extremely strong engagement figures, with 15 percent of visitors to its site voting on at least 10 items per visit.

For consumers, Ranker ties into the increasingly common online behavior of searching for aggregated opinions. Since 2006, searches including the word “best” have increased nearly 100 percent to 840 million searches per month, according to Google Trends. Similar superlative searches like “funniest,” “hottest,” and “most overrated,” have shown similar trajectories.

Unfortunately, as Benson points out, in many cases the results delivered through these searches are the opinion of a single individual and, unless they’re a true domain expert, are therefore of limited value. By offering crowdsourced results, Ranker delivers what could be considered the most accurate answers to these questions on the Web. Also, because 60 percent of Ranker’s visitors come to its site through organic search, its cost of user acquisition are extremely low.

The Ranker product is continuing to evolve, with one of the most interesting recent additions being that of an embeddable list maker that can be inserted onto any site on the Web. The company recently launched an integration in partnership with the Canadian government to rank answers to, “What should be the official food of Canada?” Similar integrations with leading brands and publishers are said to be in the works. Most importantly, by establishing itself as the de facto list-building service on the Web, Ranker will continue to collect the extremely sexy data that drives its business.

Benson is an experienced entrepreneur who is now on his fifth startup. His most notable success was online dating site eCrush, which he sold to the Hearst Digital Media in 2006. Ranker has raised $3.1 million through its series A round from Timothy Draper, Rincon Venture Partners, Siemer Ventures, Factual founder Gil Elbaz, Newport Coast Investments, Pasadena Angels, and Tech Coast Angels. The company is in the process of raising an additional round of financing to build out its data products.

The three-year-old company is actually generating lifestyle business levels of revenue off pageview-based advertising, but is now reaching the scale where it can begin delivering the breadth and depth of correlation data that marketers drool over.