What Ask.com can do for you
There's Google and then there's... what, exactly? Like most of you, I do all my searching on Google. It's built into my browsers. It's a lot better than the last engine I used, Altavista circa 1996, so I've never considered trying a different one despite all the hype about MSN and Yahoo's forays into the game.
But today, FORTUNE got a visit from Jim Lanzone, CEO of Ask.com, the web's fourth-most-visited search engine (behind Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), and Microsoft's (MSFT) MSN, respectively). Overall, it's the web's seventh-most-popular site, attracting about 30 million unique visitors a month.
Here's what Lanzone had to say about being second-fiddle to Google: "I'd rather be the slice of watermelon than a whole grape." In other words, search is the web's most popular activity, so there's room for more than one successful business in that space, even if you're not the biggest.
"I want Ask to stand for a value-added way of getting things," Lanzone says, or as many have put it, "to be the Macintosh of search engines." To that end, Ask.com has hired marketing firm Crispin Porter + Boguski, known for the "Truth" anti-smoking campaign, Burger King's "The King", and those creepy Volkswagon crash commercials. The hope is to crack the notion that your search for search is over once you've found one that works. For many people, especially the less web-savvy, that's a portal like MSN or AOL that comes with their Internet access. For me, or probably like you, it's to say loudly that Google isn't the only game in town.
Lanzone wants to turn Ask into the premium search engine, so he's set his 500-member team to creating a friendlier search result page, with "structured" results from databases (like a TV show summary from Zap2It, or a Wikipedia entry in beta versions of Ask's next generation site) and "iterative" results that offer to rephrase your query or search for related terms. AskCity has several advantages over GoogleMaps, including a quick summary of restaurant or movie reviews (from Ask's corporate cousins at IAC/Interactive), refined by city neighborhood, and a generally more pleasing horizontal layout.
So far, Ask is succeeding; it's the only non-Google search to grow in market share. But while the average Google user does 15 searches a month (which is kind of astounding, actually), the average Ask user does 2.8 searches a month. The optimistic take on those figures: There's plenty of room to grow. IAC/Interactive (IACI) doesn't break out Ask.com's revenues, so it's hard to say whether providing high-quality, presumably more costly services at the same price as everyone else (free!) is really the way to go.
But, as Lanzone says, "People are evolving in their use of search." So who knows? Certainly The Browser is glad to have its eyes pried open a bit to the possibilties of a competitive search market. We'll let you know if we end up making a switch to Ask.
Only 15 searches a month?! What? How about 15 per week? At least! This seems like a low number but maybe those users are in FL.
I probably do 150 searches a day - anything that pops into my head... but then again I sit in front of a computer for 8+ hours a day..
No doubt. 15?!?! I probably do triple or quadruple of that in a DAY. But then again, I'm lazy and don't bookmark things (because I'll end up breaking the computer anyway and lose them all). I'm also a *search* consultant, so that might inflate my numbers a little :)
i think ask.com has been very selective of sites in its list. i have been submitting my site: notoworldwar3.com but it doesnt appear there.
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