Ask.com, the famous mid-nineties search engine, is going to re-launch its site to focus more attention on answering user questions. The new business strategy will return Ask.com to its original roots answering user questions, instead of queries based primarily on keywords. In our everyday life, humans ask questions to learn of information. The question is: will a search strategy based on questions instead of key words and phrases work?
In the late nineties, Ask (which was then Ask Jeeves) was a formidable player in the search engine market. However, when Google arrived on the scene, search engines such as Yahoo and Ask wanted to replicate the success of Google’s keyword-based algorithm. It has been over a decade since Ask switched strategies and it is near the bottom of the search engine barrel. Google reigns the supreme leader of search, with 62.6 percent market share, and Yahoo falls in second with 18.9 percent and Ask comes in fourth with 3.6 percent as of June 2010.
Can re-focusing on questions — going back to its roots — be the answer to Ask’s problems? Ask.com is not the only search engine trying to avoid to enhance the user experience and help users find answers more quickly and with less clicks. Wolfram Alpha (a computational search engine), Bing, Yahoo Answers and even Google — through its acquisition of Aardvark and Metaweb — are trying to make sense of the web, whether it’s through answering a math question (Wolfram) or find all Mp3s of your favorite band (Bing), all in one place.
The key challenge is how Ask.com is going to take a non-Google approach (i.e. bring all information to the search results, instead of forcing user to follow numerous links) and make it distinctly better and appealing. Currently, Ask.com’s answers are slightly different than what you might find on Google (see above). However, as a market laggard, Ask.com is going to have to really evolve and hopefully transform the user experience and search results. The new product has not launched yet, but we’ll check back in when it does to see if Ask.com has made incremental improvements or really changed the search-and-answer game to ask-and-answer.