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This article was published on August 9, 2013

Ranker founder Clark Benson on building a list empire

Ranker founder Clark Benson on building a list empire
Josh Ong
Story by

Josh Ong

Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him a Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].

If you were to create a list of hot stuff on the Internet right now, lists themselves would earn a place on it. Ranker got its start with crowdsourced lists in 2009 and has since grown to monthly traffic figures of over 76 million page views from 7.7 million unique visitors.

Founder Clark Benson built Ranker with the proceeds from an earlier exit from Ecrush, the teen social networking site he helped found. Traffic grew steadily over the past few years, and Ranker has placed near the top 500 for traffic in the US and among the top 100 for US mobile websites, according to Quantcast.

Ranker appeals to that deep human need to weigh in with our opinions on even the most trivial matters. The site’s lists cover a broad range of topics, and visitors can either upvote and downvote existing lists or login and create “reranks”, custom versions of lists that are weighted more heavily than anonymous votes.

“Our goal is to be the Yelp of everything else,” Benson said in an interview, adding that Ranker isn’t particularly interested in competing with the likes of Yelp in the local and travel SEO.

Benson said that the original idea for Ranker was to base the site on user-generated lists, but things didn’t really take off until the team added in the anonymous voting button. By combining the two in one algorithm, Ranker struck a balance between passionate fans with mainstream folks.

Numerous answer and opinion sites have surfaced over the years, with Quora leading the current pack, but Benson views Ranker as answering the kinds of questions that have data-centric answers and can produce “meaty long lists that you can nerd out on.”

“The real thing that’s the secret sauce for Ranker is – unlike a lot of the other opinion [startups] I’ve seen where they tend to be a yes/no question with a single answer – if you’re into a topic, there likely isn’t only one answer for that topic,” Benson said. “What we do has more depth…People that like to rank things tend to have more hardcore nerdom,” he said.

According to Benson, the company recently had a profitable month, but it’s still in a growth phase and is actively hiring. Ranker completed a $2 million venture round from Lowercase Capital and Bullpen Capital in June, bringing its total capital raised to $5.1 million.

As you’d expect from a company that’s amassing large amounts of consumer preferences, Ranker’s data could be highly valuable to marketers and brands. The startup hasn’t aggressively pursued the option yet, but it has been posting insights from its data to its blog and could gear up to leverage it as a revenue generator as early as next year.

Since Ranker users tend to vote across a variety of topics, the site has the ability to make connections between brands. For instance, it could show a cereal brand which TV shows its customers prefer to help it decide where to advertise.

Ranker’s current monetization efforts come mainly through third-party advertising and affiliate ecommerce revenue from lead generation in specific verticals.

Power users on the site comprise about 20 percent of the community. The average visitor votes on about 12 items per list and over 15 items per session, while hardcore users have ranked as many as 7,000 items overall.

The rise in prominence that Ranker has enjoyed has brought with it manipulators trying to game the rankings. Benson said the problem only became a major one this year. The company has added functionality to control for bias, agenda pushing and self-promotion.

Ranker’s lists tend to settle in to mainstream tastes, rather than those of experts or aficionados or connoisseurs.

Search engines are moving toward building their own opinion graphs. Google bought Zagat, for example. In that light, Ranker, with the millions of customer opinions it has collect, is bound to make the top of marketers’ lists in the near future.

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