Believes It Can Be a Force, Even if It's Not the Next Google

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NEW YORK ( -- As Jeeves retires to the virtual online icon rest home in cyberspace, newly rebranded has bold plans.
Jim Lanzone

Though the second-tier search engine has a meager share of the search query market share, it hopes to build that base with a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign breaking this week online and next week on cable and network TV. The push, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco, uses the tagline “Use Tools, Feel Human.” The TV spots show characters who are transformed by using Ask.

“Each point [of market share gained] means a huge financial gain for us,” said Jim Lanzone, general manager of Ask U.S. “We don’t have to be as big as Yahoo and Google to be a huge success.”

Google, it isn’t
In November 2005, Google had a market share of 46.3% of the searches in the U.S.; Yahoo had 23.5% and was followed by MSN with 11.4%, AOL with 6.9%, Myway with 2.6% and Ask with 2.3%, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Yahoo Search and Google are strong competitors, conceded Mr. Lanzone, but he maintains “they have certain constraints.” In other words, while Yahoo courts Hollywood and Google tries to figure out how to be a media company, Ask -- focused only on search -- plans to sneak in and grab users.

“People who think the search game is over need to wake up and come see,” Mr. Lanzone said.

Sleek features
What users will see: a redesigned home page with a look reminiscent of the clean, sleek Google home page. New features include a navigation bar that helps the searcher refine searches; “binoculars” accompanying natural search results that let the user see a graphic representation of the found sites; and a smart-search feature that appears at the top of every page, providing locations, directions and other information relating to the search results.

Ads are reduced to three sponsored links at the top of each page and more than three on the bottom. None appear in the margins, so the rest of the page is devoted to natural results. All of this is geared to provide the “best search experience possible,” Mr. Lanzone said.

More users, more often
The ad push is designed to bulk up traffic and frequency of use. Most of Ask’s users typically visit twice a month, compared to the 15-times-a-month frequency Google enjoys. “If we can increase that to four times a month, we’ve doubled our frequency.”

To increase audience, he said, more sponsored links will be sold across other properties -– like MyWay, iWon and Excite -– that are owned by Ask parent IAC. And over time, Ask, which is the center of IAC’s Internet property network, will become a sort of search portal for IAC. Ads for those properties will be placed in Ask’s results pages to drive traffic.

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