A Few Answers on Ask.com's New Strategy

Posted by: Rob Hof on March 5, 2008

Update below…

Another Google competitor bites the dust: Ask.com basically has thrown in the towel on competing with the search giant, laying off 8% of its work force, or 40 people. That’s entirely understandable, because it was a lost cause a long time ago despite heroic efforts to come up with better user interfaces and other innovations.

But turning itself into a search site for “married women looking for help managing their lives”? What’s up with that? OK, I see that they’re saying 65% of the user base is women. But if you’re going to target your service, this audience seems a little broad, especially for a search engine. And if the idea of searching by asking a question didn’t work before, why will it work now?

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land sums it up: “The truth is, you’re dead. You’re about to join the legion of other has-been search engines.”

Update: Turns out the apparent about-face by Ask, a unit of IAC, may not be quite as much of a turn as initial stories indicated. VP and spokesperson Nicholas Graham says the AP story and resulting blog posts, including this one, made it sound like Ask is becoming the next iVillage, a completely women-oriented site. He says that’s not true, that Ask will continue to be a broad search engine, but will focus on its most loyal users, nearly 60% of whom do turn out to be women. But the focus won’t be only on them per se so much as what they do on Ask, which is to ask questions in key categories such as general reference, health, and entertainment. That still means it won’t be as much of a broad competitor to Google, but the message is that Ask will continue to appeal to a broad set of users looking to get rather more specific answers than they feel they can get on other search engines.

Reader Comments

George

March 6, 2008 8:45 AM

The business of search advertising is all about the numbers. If your search engine has the user base, the advertisers will follow.

bobg

March 7, 2008 1:27 PM

Aw cmon. A search engine is a dumb beast -- it finds what it's programmed to find. The rest seems to be how it's marketed. But that's self-fulfilling: If Ask tells the market it's for middle-aged women in the south and central US, everyone else will self-select out. Watch. In talking to Ask, it's striking how unwilling they are to be specific about how, if at all, the search engine itself will change. So the inference I drew is that it won't change much -- only the marketing will. But as the audience changes, the business changes. Hard to see how they boost search share by concentrating the audience.

TimL

March 7, 2008 4:58 PM

Everybody is so obsessed about Google. I review few open source search engines like Visvo.com and Wikia.com and EVENTUALLY they will give these Google a tough fight. Watch out.

tiddle

March 9, 2008 11:39 PM

Frankly I don't see too much magic in google. (Yes, there's the algo, and then there's the simple economics of indexing as many pages on the web as humanly possible.) If another upstart comes along that gives me more searched (eg. relevant answers for technical Q&A), I'll jump without missing a beat. To tell the truth, google has become so bloated I don't really feel like using it anymore. Afterall, the main reason I switched from yahoo, then alta vista and northern light, then google, was all because google had more specific searches results. If google messes up the search results in order to make more profit, it's going to alienate alot of people (and certainly me). If google or anyone thinks that they have the franchise and "own" the end-users on the web, they must be smoking. (Remember the AOL argument of their dialup service?)

Jamaal

March 10, 2008 1:25 PM

I agree with Tiddle.

The results from all of the search enginess are getting worse. Google still provide the best results, however.

I decided to give ask.com a test drive for a month. I would constantly find myself loading google from the ask.com results pages as they just were not good enough.

ask.com blames losing the battle on everything, but the most important issue: Quality Results. Provide quality results and you can be #1.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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