Ask.com, formerly known as Ask Jeeves, got into auction-based search with its sponsored links product introduced last August. James Speer, VP-marketing and products at IAC Search & Media, a division of IAC/InterActive Corp., was at the epicenter of that effort.
Sponsored links replaced premier listings, which were sold for a flat rate and limited to a few hundred advertisers. Customers demanded a sponsored product similar to those offered by other search engines.
"Google and Yahoo! had sponsored listings," Speer said. "We got feedback that advertisers were looking for parity. They wanted to leverage what they were doing on Google and Yahoo!
"In order to grow our exposure in the industry and increase the number of advertisers we were touching, we needed to do it."
Sponsored Links put Ask.com on the search map. As Nielsen// NetRatings reported, it "leapt into the top five" rankings with a 2.1% market share in August. Ask.com was also the fastest growing among the top five (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL and Ask.com), rising 77% in volume from 75.8 million searches in June 2005 to 133.9 million in October.
Ask.com has since maintained its single-digit market share, with minimal gains and losses.
"The ownership of market share is still a shifting sand. We're in the midst of relaunching," Speer said, referring to the company's decision to drop butler Jeeves and rebrand as Ask.com in February.
Speer said now that the company is owned by IAC, "we're a much larger player with financial resources that IAC makes available and their collection of assets." Those assets include brands such as Expedia and Ticketmaster.
"Our search engine boxes are being embedded in the IAC properties, and that itself is creating more traffic," Speer said.
Becoming a resource alongside such companies as Google is the plan.
"The big opportunity for us with the advertising community is to establish we're a significant player, we're growing, we have access to an audience they can't reach through other means and we're a good partner," Speer said.