Nightmare on QuinStreet

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Smoking out leads in cyberspace isn't the gold mine it used to be.

QuinStreet's (Nasdaq: QNST  ) shareholders are feeling the pain today, after the Web-savvy provider of vetted leads warned of near-term weakness.

QuinStreet is eyeing flat year-over-year revenue growth for the current and upcoming quarters. Analysts were banking on top-line growth of 16% and 12%, respectively. QuinStreet's outlook also calls for revenue of $455 million to $475 million for the new fiscal year, which kicks off next month. Wall Street was targeting nearly $480 million.

QuinStreet is usually a well-oiled machine. Unlike Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing that simply let advertisers bid on keywords in search engine queries, QuinStreet operates narrow vertical content sites in niche areas including financial services and for-profit post-secondary schools. By engaging visitors, QuinStreet is able to deliver more qualified leads to advertisers that are willing to pay more for vetted referrals. QuinStreet's sales pitch to advertisers is that its hands-on approach delivers greater sale by shaving as much as two-thirds of customer acquisition costs.

There have been hiccups along the way, but largely on the end of its areas of specialty. Serving up leads to home service providers or online universities isn't as lucrative as it was a few years ago. DeVry (NYSE: DV  ) , for example, accounted for nearly a fifth of QuinStreet's revenue two years ago before scaling back.

QuinStreet's deep dives place it in a more compelling position than performance-based peers including Marchex (Nasdaq: MCHX  ) and ValueClick (Nasdaq: VCLK  ) , but the market's never exactly seen it that way.

There wasn't a lot of buzz when QuinStreet went public last year. It was priced at $15, opened at $15, and closed its first day of trading at $15. Obviously, the stock went on to trade in a much wider range, but it was already trading as a busted IPO before last night's news.

QuinStreet isn't broken. The midpoint of its top-line range for fiscal 2012 implies a growth rate of 15%. QuinStreet's guidance calls for adjusted EBITDA margins to clock in at a reasonable 20%. If anything, today's pummeling may be just enough to ring the dinner bell for potential acquirers. QuinStreet's model works. Its areas of marketing specialty just happen to be somewhat out of favor at the moment.

I wonder if there's a deep vertical content site out there to smoke out acquirers for busted dot-com IPOs?

Is online advertising in general vulnerable these days? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.  

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz considers himself a vetted lead. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 08, 2011, at 6:42 PM, dsharma99 wrote:

    QNST is broken as you can see the cost of Revenue is very-very high and net net profit margins are in single digits.

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