Posted March 6, 2008 2:45 pm by with 16 comments

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ask logoA few headlines have popped up today with the good news. I spoke with spokesman and VP Nicholas Graham in a personal interview today to clarify Ask’s announcement earlier this week.

The idea that we’re going to become a ‘women’s site’ is not correct,” says Graham. Ask says that the original AP report had an erroneous headline, and it’s pretty much been downhill from there.

But the reality is that:

what we’ve found from our research is that there’s a sizeable group of our core user base that is women. This core audience comes for certain types of searches, certain categories—reference (dictionary, thesaurus, etc.), health and entertainment. Our new strategy is to focus on building up our ability to render good answers in those categories for our core audience.

Graham emphasized that will work on providing answers “quicker, faster and in a more meaningful, scaling way.” (I can see the new slogan now: “Ask. Get answers.” Love it.). Providing answers, however, doesn’t mean that they’ll return to the natural-language, ask-us-a-question model that’s so last century. They’ll continue to work on improving their answers for queries on generic, single-word terms, statements and questions.

The best news of all, of course, is the news that “the idea that we’re not going to be a search engine anymore is not correct. We’ll continue to cater to all sorts of people who come to search. . . . We’ll continue to be a great search engine, but a great search engine with a new focus.”

While today’s statements may sound dangerously like the “realignment” or “refocusing” buzzwords that some so dreaded, I believe Ask when they say that they’re not abandoning search or seeking to alienate any of their users. Instead, they’ll “continue to cater to all sorts of people who come to search.”

However, they have decided to strive toward an “emotional connection with our core audience.” Acknowledging that it’s not wise to try to be all things to all people, and that people are looking for differentiation in search, Ask will focus on their core audience, who comes to them three times as often as they do other search engines, because that’s where their core growth is.

They’re “not giving up on bettering Google,” but trying to

become the first place that customers come to when seeking answers. We’re going to be the best at that; we’ll be the first place that they come to for that. We’ll keep bringing them back in a strategic and meaningful way.

Naturally, if they’re successful in this, these efforts will be good for marketers working through Ask as well. Focusing on a “highly active, dedicated and loyal” core audience can help marketers understand their traffic and what kind of appeals they should make to them, in addition to increasing traffic from Ask.

Graham acknowledged that they’ve seen some great successes with the innovations from 2007, including Ask3D, and they’ll continue to innovate in search in 2008—and we should watch for exciting announcements from Ask in the coming weeks and months. They plan to “innovate in a way to connect emotionally with users who know us and love us and have done so for a long time.”

CEO Jim Safka did mention a community-generated answers aspect to Ask and Graham confirmed that some user-generated content will become important in “building answers.” He said that they have researched their core audience and determined that this is something that they are, in fact, looking for. Right now, however, the search engine will remain the “central product,” though they’ll “build out around their core audience” as well.

I think that this strategy sounds much better than what we were hearing about earlier this week. By focusing on their core audience, Ask hopes to make their loyal users even more dedicated to increase their strength. Then they hope to grow from that position of strength, positioning themselves for growth in the search market. As long as we continue to see search innovation from Ask, I wish them luck!

  • Did they announce a Pulitzer Prize for blogging, because that was a great piece of journalism. Nice work on the interview! 🙂

  • Jordan McCollum

    Aw, shucks. Thanks, Andy!

  • Truly was a great write-up. It’s good to hear that Ask isn’t giving up on men 🙂

    I think going after what they’re good at might be a nice strategy – as mentioned it isn’t always good to be everything to everyone. In addition, from what I’ve experienced, women (part of their core audience) talk and if they like something they’ll let you know.

  • Hello Andy, this was an excellent write-up. With everything being google this and that Ask is still sticking with it.

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  • Seriously, I can’t believe people are falling for this. AP was wrong? Oh, so Reuters and the Wall Street Journal didn’t hear it right too? Or is it more that Ask said after the fact, uh oh, and now is running around playing damage control. Honestly, I don’t think they know what they want to do, at this point — and given the competition, that means they’re deader than ever.

  • @Danny – don’t hold back, what do you really think? 🙂 Ask wouldn’t be the first to backtrack, then again, it wouldn’t be the first time that AP, Reuters or WSJ quoted something out of context either.

  • Heh, won’t hold back. I think Ask went WTF! we’ve just devalued our search engine and is in panic mode. Put it to you this way — none of the naysayers I know of have been contacted about how it was all wrong. ‘Cause we wouldn’t believe it? Maybe. And seriously Andy, if you think Ask were staying in the game, don’t you think you’d have gotten a tickle about the new direction before the — hmm — shit hit the fan? I mean NOW you hear from Ask after they talk to the AP, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal rather than those pesky little elitists blogs, after it turns out those blogs probably are calling it straight. Yep.

  • And Jordan, no offense — I love the work you do. I just think Ask is doing the serious spin job here on a lot of people.

  • Jordan McCollum

    Is Ask doing a spin job? OF COURSE. How could they not? I think that Safka messed up in explaining their new direction—I mean, he left us thinking that they were going to be iVillage+Yahoo Answers—and they’re having to do a lot of clean up. At the same time, they can’t come out and publicly say, “Yeah, sometimes he’s an idiot.”

    But this article isn’t really about what I think; it’s about what they told me. I did ask about what Safka said; I got a very political answer (which is why it’s not in the article) that stopped short of saying that he was misquoted or taken out of context. But in that answer, Graham emphasized that they’d still be a search engine.

    It was a clarification that we needed to hear and I hope that they don’t change their minds about this again any time soon.

  • I have to say, I’m 100 percent with Danny on this one. I don’t buy any of this new spin they’re trying to pull. They weren’t misquoted the first time around. I’d rather they just pull the whole engine and let Diller buy his yacht already. It turns my stomach listening to the lies and re-marketing.

    If the first story was “wrong”, Gary Price would still be at Ask. So would Patrick Crisp. It’s over. As is my support for that company.

    Ask will still technically be a search engine in order to help all those poor married women find pumpkin pie recipes. However, they won’t compete and they’ll never be interesting. They’ll just linger on in the background doing nothing, no longer aggravating the CEO that never wanted them.

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  • Thanx Andy for great info.

  • Why Women’s site? It’s not wrong at all but why make the limitation?

    Anyway, saw this site : [link removed; no it doesn’t appear to be from Ask] – is it from Anyone knows, please?

    Thank you.

  • Well said Lisa, I have to agree with you and Danny on this one. Ask needs to get their stuff together before anouncing anything in the future.