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Ask.com Says They Don't Want to Become Women's Site  (View post)

macbeach [PersonRank 6]

Thursday, March 6, 2008
6 years ago2,590 views

I think I saw a half a dozen references to the AP article yesterday, and I guess I'll see about the same number today.

You have nicely summarized what looks to be a mess of epic proportions, created by people who's individual salaries could run a small company, most of whom probably don't have a clue how their own technology works.

Like Kirk on the Enterprise, they bark orders and expect in an instant that in an instant, six people will press a few buttons and "make it so".

Hilarious!

LisaM [PersonRank 1]

6 years ago #

I guess I'm kind of confused why you wouldn't accept their explanation, which seems totally rationale. That the site skews to a particular demographic and user behavior, and that the best way to gain share is to optimize for their satisfaction.

Why is Ask obligated to attack Google head-on, in some suicide mission?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

Lisa, why would they not compete with Google if they focus on recipes, homework, entertainment, health etc.? Google also tries to return good results for those topics (albeit in more scalable ways, perhaps).

Christopher Borden [PersonRank 1]

6 years ago #

Yesterday an Associated Press report by Michael Liedtke stated that Ask.com wants to “abandon” its effort to outshine Google.........

Gee whiz! With a corporate philosophy based on an.....effort to "outshine Google" can anyone really be surprised at Ask.com's current predicament?

LisaM [PersonRank 1]

6 years ago #

Well, obviously, everybody is competing with Google somehow. But people can be better than Google – and, more importantly, be recognized by their loyal users as more focused than Google – for certain things and for certain kinds of users.

Recipes is a really good example. Neither Google or Ask are very good at this. (Trust me. I'm a mom. I use anything.) Either would be much better if they focused on it, tuned for it, provided advanced search tools for it. But I'd assume it's not a top priority for Google. It *could* be a top priority for Ask. Personally, I'd appreciate it.

Basically, I agree with Christopher Borden, above. My impression of the old strategy was that they were trying to be a better Google than Google. And I think that's always a bad approach to attacking a leader.

Motti [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

I really hope Ask doesn't abandon its approach of being a generic search engine. They have been prepared to experiment and present interesting IR and interface techniques (e.g. clustering and skins) in a far more adventurous manner than the other 3. I think they keep the others on their toes and it'd a shame to see them essentially stop being an incentive to the competition.

Motti [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

[put at-character here]LisaM: for recipes a good start is Google Base btw.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

Gotcha Lisa. Well, I'm curious what they will come up with, too. Google Base (base.google.com ... down for me in Germany at the moment so I can't check right now) already provides e.g. some recipe search by the way, albeit it's almost useless if it's not integrated back into Google's main results (this has happened with some Base results, but rarely, and I think only in the US).

We need to see though that targeting the "short tail" or what you may want to call it will always mean people stick to associate "google" with "getting an answer". It's kind of hard to break out of that to associate "getting an answer on recipes" with "ask" (once they'd be better, that is). Or associating "getting an answer on recipes" with "google base", for that matter. I would say the situation is similar if you build e.g. a calendar application that's 10% better than Google Calendar but that doesn't have Gmail, Docs, Google Account etc. integration – many people still wouldn't switch away to it because it's easier to have things in one place with cross-integration features (e.g. directly adding an event from within a Gmail).

One additional thought: even if you only target a niche, it might make more sense to define that niche in terms of topics (e.g. "recipes") rather than demographics (e.g. "midwestern US woman"), because then you are more open to all other demographics happening to search for the same topic.

LisaM [PersonRank 1]

6 years ago #

Well, I think what they said is that they are going to look at their queries, and optimize for those. Since I know that other moms like me like Ask – probably because of the porn blocker – I do suspect that those queries will relate to a particular demographic.

I guess what I'm trying to understand is why the entire search community is ridiculing them for trying to focus on their current users, instead of becoming a money-losing test lab (like Motti suggested) for new interface ideas. Keeping other search engines 'on their toes' is a suicide mission, and its unreasonable to expect a company to foot the bill for that.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

Lisa, I think what creates the surprise in the search community is not the fact that there's a specialized search engine now (there are thousands of them). What creates the surprise is the discrepancy between Ask.com's past marketing – like the The Algorithm campaign, or the "shock" campaign (searchengineland.com/070813-09 ...), or the Dungeons & Dragons ladies campaign, or the "undeground alternative to Google" or "smart answers" arguments – and their latest announcement. It's how they positioned *themselves* that makes the latest announcement seem like they're giving up on many users.

I can't speak for the whole search community but from my experience, sites running after target groups and switching from one marketing concept to the next (crying "wolf" and then saying there's no wolf en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boy_ ...), instead of sites strongly believing in one good idea and making it scalable to as many users and types of requests as possible – yes, including midwestern women, but also including say Scandivan women or Dutch men or... --, often go down in the long run (like Technorati or AltaVista).

Whether or not their new efforts are indeed more successful in the long run remains to be seen... you believe in it, so fair enough, let's wait what happens!

Now, if you ask "so what would have been a more successful strategy for Ask?", I don't think that's an easy question! Perhaps not focusing too much on ad campaigns would have been a start for Ask to think it through.

Kevin Newcomb [PersonRank 0]

6 years ago #

Hi Philipp,

According to Ask.com's Nicholas Graham, the original article, written by AP SF Bureau's Michael Liedtke, was originally syndicated to other AP publications with this headline: "Ask.com abandons pursuit of Google, seeks makeover as women's site" (kidk.com/news/business/1625618 ...).

Ask.com called Liedtke to talk about the headline, which he agreed was misleading. As you probably know, most headlines at newspapers are not written by the reporter, but by a copy editor. Liedtke talked to his editor and was able to change the headline to "Ask.com Scales Back in Makeover" (sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi ...). That new version is also now syndicated on some AP sites (hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/ ...).

Hope this helps,
Kevin Newcomb
managing editor, Search Engine Watch

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

Thanks Kevin!

Though the intro sentence is still in saying something not too unsimilar to what the editor picked as old headline... <<In a dramatic about-face, Ask.com is abandoning its effort to outshine Internet search leader Google Inc. and will instead focus on a narrower market consisting of married women looking for help managing their lives.>>

LisaM [PersonRank 1]

6 years ago #

Okay, so we're in total agreement about Ask.com's old strategy, particularly their bizarre ad campaigns.

But I still don't understand why anybody would object to their new course of action, which seems total logical:

-- look at the queries
-- categorize the queries
-- evaluate their performance on those categories
-- improve the categories of queries that they get a lot of and which they don't do a good job of

If you think that's a "specialized search engine", well, fine. I don't really can't what you call it.

But if it gains more loyal users like me, Ask will finally be a success.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

6 years ago #

1. Ask can't realistically hope to match Google or Yahoo. But 4% of the search market is still a MASSIVE market, and there's no reason why Ask shouldn't be able to carve out and retain a profitable niche at the 4% level.

2. As Motti says, a Google Base search gives good recipe results. A year ago, Google was including Google Base results at the top of the main results if you searched for e.g. [thai recipes] or [jobs in san francisco], but not anymore. I wonder why.

3. There's genuine need for really good specialized search engines: recipes, music, art, lyrics, car parts, jobs, products, women's stuff, etc. But there's no point discarding Ask's existing branding and users to try to achieve them.

4. The original article did sound like it was from The Onion.

LisaM [PersonRank 1]

6 years ago #

Okay, thank you, Roger. That's exactly the point I was making.

If they can go from 4% to 10% by just serving the people who like them better, they are a HUGE success story.

Why is the search community focused on getting companies to try to *beat* Google? That's not the way technology competition works, and it makes me wonder whether it's just something that we consultants wants.

As we all know, technology platforms create natural monopolies that survive until they are no longer compelling to the buyers and sellers who transact through them. The goal of the other competitors is to survive long enough for the monopoly's power to weaken or become irrelevant.

Ask needs to survive. And that means it has to focus on what works for its users. Period. And nobody should be bashing them for doing that.

Danny Sullivan [PersonRank 2]

6 years ago #

I guess Reuters and the Wall Street Journal magically got it wrong, too, the same day the AP screwed up (and just where is that AP correction). Or Ask is just spinning things after the fact :)

Danny Sullivan [PersonRank 2]

6 years ago #

Reuters:
reuters.com/article/marketsNew ...

The company found that about 65 percent of its user base are women, with a high concentration of users in their late 30s in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast. That contrasts with the wider search market, where women account for closer to 48 percent of users.

"If we can do a better job of understanding who these customers are and answering their questions, we will grow," Safka said. He was due to outline the strategy to staff on Tuesday.

Wall Street Journal:
online.wsj.com/article/SB12046 ...

"Yesterday, Mr. Safka said Ask had stumbled by trying to build products that would appeal to the "digerati" or "West Coast elite," as opposed to its most passionate customers, who still think of Ask as the place that can concisely answer a particular question.

Mr. Safka said he wants to focus Ask on its core audience, predominantly women who use the site to ask questions about topics like entertainment and health. To do that, he says, the company will launch new products and enhance its technology through efforts like pulling in more community-generated answers."

Kevin, congrats on the managing editor promotion. Haven't seen that noted on SEW yet!

Bill Pytlovany [PersonRank 0]

6 years ago #

Here's the problem...
"The company found that about 65 percent of its user base are women, with a high concentration of users in their late 30s in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast. "

Unfortunately, that data is skewed because that is also most likely the demographic of users who downloaded many of the FunWebProducts(Screen savers, Cursors, etc...) and didn't realize they were installing the MyWebSearch bar so that all their searches suddenly go to Ask.com.

Bill

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