Freewebs Bets On 'Widget' Ads

Freewebs.com, which makes software that allows people to create their own Web sites and blogs, has opened a New York office to expand brand advertising on its network of sites.

The five-person New York office of Silver Springs, Md.-based FreeWebs is led by Vice President of Advertising Chris Cunningham, formerly vice president of sales at Bolt Media.

Started in 2001, Freewebs encompasses more than 11 million sites created using the company's site-building free and pay software tools. More recently, Freewebs has moved to become a one-stop shop for Web 2.0 site builders, providing the ability to add features such as blogs, online photo albums, Meta tags, and online polls.

Freewebs last month raised $11 million in a venture financing round by investors led by Novak Biddle Venture Partners and Columbia Capital. With the opening of its New York office and the expected launch of a revamped home page on Wednesday, Freewebs plans to boost brand advertising in the form of custom "widgets," or small programs, placed across its publisher network.

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Earlier this year, Freewebs worked with Sony Pictures to promote the release of the studio's sci-fi adventure "Zathura" by creating a widget featuring games tied to the film's plot. The widget was viewed 600,000 times, and embedded on 11,000 Freewebs sites in six weeks. Now, the company wants to sell other advertisers on so-called widget marketing. "For every campaign we do, we're going to build out a custom widget suited to the brand marketer," said Cunningham, who declined to name any advertisers the company is talking with.

Until now, Freewebs has relied mainly on running contextual ads on its sites through publisher ad networks such as Google's AdSense program. But the company views sponsored widgets as a more promising way to capitalize on emerging social networking trends. In addition to its own networks of sites, Cunningham said any sponsored widgets it develops will also be available for placement on Web pages in other networks such as MySpace.

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