In a burgeoning online world, advertisers are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. So is ValueClick Inc.

The Westlake Village-based online advertising and marketing firm has purchased seven companies since 2001. Two of those try to get online shoppers to click through to a new retail Web site when they leave the first. Another allows customers to compare prices between Web sites, and one runs online sweepstakes.

"We try to drive traffic to Web sites, generate customer leads and try to sell products online to online consumers," said Gary Fuges, ValueClick's spokesman. "It doesn't matter if it's advertising done on Web sites, opt-in emails, search or building an online sales force."

Picking up pieces from the tech bust, ValueClick has built a profitable business offering advertisers an alternative to the large search engines like Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., which serve up targeted ads along with search results.

"They're not paying ridiculous multiples for Internet names or fads," said Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst with Janco Partners Inc. "Their whole approach has been refined, and their client base has grown."

With its latest two acquisitions, ValueClick has raised revenue and earnings forecasts, and the stock has jumped by more than 20 percent since early May. Ten of the 12 analysts covering the company have a "buy" rating.

In its largest business, media advertising, ValueClick acts as an online version of an advertising agency as it finds good locations for a client's ad from an inventory of thousands of small- and medium-size Web sites.

In traditional advertising, a campaign might be made up of newspaper ads, billboards and television spots. Online, the inventory takes the shape of banner ads on Web sites, space on opt-in e-mails or newsletters or a search-box on a Web site.

Partnership deals
ValueClick has partnership agreements with a number of online publishers, including Yahoo and Google, as well as hundreds of other Web sites, taking a fee to place the ads.

The biggest challenge is convincing advertisers that it's cost-effective to outsource advertising to ValueClick rather than handle online advertising in-house.

"If you were an advertiser in the newspaper world wanting to know how your ads were doing, would you take the word of the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune just because they said so?" Tyykkonen asked. "You really need somebody from outside the Google-Yahoo platform to give you that unbiased view."

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