Ask.com Returns to Answers

IAC Search Engine Readies New Ad Push, Might Be Interested in Buying a Q&A Site

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- IAC today is relaunching its search engine, Ask.com, with an emphasis is on answering users' questions within one click.

Ask.com uses its ability to mine "structured data" to offer search results in vertical channels, denoted in tabs, such as TV listing and recipes, across the top of the page. A channel titled Q&A (still in beta) delivers results from across all the various question-and-answer sites, including Wiki Answers and Yahoo Answers. That Q&A feature is a bit of a return to Ask's roots; it was founded on the premise that people would type questions into the query box and Ask would answer them. Then the work was done by hand; today it's done by mining existing web data.

Cleansed results
Jim Safka, who took over as CEO of Ask.com earlier this year, said the result is "better Q&A than the sites that host them because we cleanse them." Allowing people to also answer questions on Ask.com might be a logical next step he said. To do that, would Ask need to buy a Q&A site?

Mr. Safka didn't nix the idea and said Ask might be interested in that, but he insisted it doesn't need an acquisition.

Ask.com's relaunch is being supported by a campaign that, incidentally, is also a bit of a return to the search engine's former self. The goal of the campaign will be to try to give a personality to the site, which used to have a personality in Jeeves, a butler who served up search results. After being bought by Barry Diller's IAC, Ask ditched Jeeves in favor of a cleaner, more Google-like search model, which is now being introduced in TV spots, from New York-based Hanft Raboy and Partners (the shop collaborated with Mr. Safka in the past on ads for Match.com).

The spots feature "naggers," a series of characters that ask those nagging questions all day long. Of course, Ask is where the answer to those questions can be found. The effort is being tested in 12 markets with various media mixes. When Ask figures out what works bets, the push will be rolled out nationally.

Previous efforts
The new push follows a rather ineffective $100 million campaign that touted everything form Ask's algorithm to its "3D" results, which served up a blended mix of text, video and images.

"People tried the site and didn't stay," said Mr. Safka, who came on board after that campaign. Since then, he said Ask has improved its speed and relevency. Early testing of the new site, he said, has increased frequency and retention of users by 16%.

Will the strategy work? Advertising can bring new users to search, but the engine has to be good enough to keep them coming back. Ask hopes its new look will find some fans who check out the site and like it enough to become regular users.

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