Online research group Hitwise has been bought by Experian in a $240m (£120m) deal.

The credit information provider says it will use the acquisition to extend the range of online and offline marketing services it can offer its clients.

In a statement, it said Hitwise would complement its existing offline research into consumers’ behaviour, as well as strengthening the sales and distribution network of CheetahMail, Experian’s email delivery and analytics company.

Chief exec Don Robert said:

“We have been successfully repositioning our marketing solutions business to meet our clients’ needs as they continue to switch more of their advertising spend online.

“Hitwise…complements the existing data, tools and expertise that we already offer to clients in other areas such as research services and email distribution.”

Andrew Walsh, his counterpart at Hitwise, said:

“We are excited to become part of Experian, having worked with them for over four years.

We will now be able to accelerate Hitwise’s growth and profitability through access to Experian’s wider pool of data, tools and clients, while more quickly expanding our global footprint.”

Rumours that Hitwise had put itself up for sale have circulated for a while now. In December, The Telegraph reported its price tag was £180m.

Experian said it expects Hitwise to generate a small profit on around $40m (£20m) in turnover in the year to 31 March 2007, and to grow sales by more than 40% in the subsequent twelve months.

comScore, Hitwise’s rival, also said recently that it was planning to float on Nasdaq.