The best comparison site?

Car crashUnless you never watch television, you'll be only too aware of the competition for financial comparison sites and their increasing attempts to raise our blood pressures with ever more annoying advertisements.

It's big business, too, as market leader has shown us by more than doubling its profit for the year ending December 2011. After seeing revenues grow by 22% to £181m, pre-tax profit rocketed from £11m in 2010 to £24m. Before interest, depreciation and amortisation, we saw a 21% rise to £49.5m.

Insurance is key

The bulk of the firm's business came from selling insurance, which took in over £100m, with other financial products coming second and travel taking the third spot. The website also offers comparison-based shopping for things like broadband, mobile phones and energy suppliers.
%VIRTUAL-ArticleSidebar%, which sponsors Britain's Got Talent, also improved its gross margin, from 71.3% to 71.9%, and ended the year with net cash of £35m on its books.

The news was good for income investors, too, with the full-year payout coming to 4.53p per share (up from 3.83p), for a 3.7% yield on yesterday's close of day price of 122p (it's up 4.6% to 127p as I write). And there was a special dividend of 3.93p per share paid with the interim.

The future

Chief executive Peter Plumb told us: "2012 is shaping up to be a really tough year for customers. We expect the opportunity for households to save over £1,000 by switching their credit cards, home and motor insurance, loan and energy providers will be very welcome."'s business is clearly a strongly brand-led one, and marketing is key. With a marketing spend of £77.5m in 2011, there are now plans to raise that by around 20% in the coming year.

And there will be further investment in technology also. After launching its iPhone app this year, the company is facing predictions that more than half of internet searches will be performed using mobile devices by 2015.

Higher profile

Together, this two-pronged approach is hoped to significantly raise brand awareness, with Mr Plumb adding: "We are investing more in making MoneySupermarket one of the UK's mainstream household brands, in demonstrating to customers the range of products we offer and the savings they can make, and showing product providers the value of partnering with Moneysupermarket."

Will the plans succeed? I certainly wouldn't bet against it, and shareholders may well be looking back in a few years' time and feeling very pleased that they bought in.

And the adverts are far less annoying than those meerkats and the fat opera singer.

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