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Ask.com Remains Committed to Search

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The reports of Ask.com's death have been exaggerated.

Earlier this week, reports began to circulate in the mainstream press that Ask.com would give up on its search technology to become a Q&A engine for married women. Search bloggers immediately began to run with it, and took no time in rushing to judgment to declare the death of Ask.com.

According to Ask.com spokesperson Nicholas Graham, nothing could be further from the truth. "The idea that we're going to become a women's site is just plain wrong. We know that a sizable group of our core user base is women, and we know they come to us for a certain kind of search: to get answers, often in areas of reference, health and entertainment," Graham said.

"We recognize that we can't be all things to all people, so we're focusing on our core group of users. We want to build up the kinds of answers those users are looking for, while at the same time remain a strong search site," he said.

The key to Ask.com's new strategy is search, specifically its Teoma technology that currently powers its search algorithms. That technology is not going away, Graham said. Ask has been an innovator in search technology, winning much praise for its 3-paneled Ask3D blended search results. The query refinement tools it has offered for years have only recently been mimicked by the big three search engines.

And while it's true that Ask.com renewed a deal with Google back in November to distribute AdWords ads in its search results, there are no plans to replace Ask.com's organic search results with Google's organic results, Graham said. And reports that tests of Google results have been spotted on Ask.com are completely erroneous, he said.

The strategy is less about targeting any one demographic group than it is about targeting the kinds of searches those users are doing. Ask.com's research shows that searchers looking for answers to questions come to Ask.com three times more often than they go to other search engines. So Ask.com will make it easier for searchers to ask questions, which might include adding user-generated answers, natural-language search capabilities, and other enhancements to search technology and presentation of search results.

"We want to address the answer-seekers, who put things in a search box in certain ways," Graham said. "We think it's smart to identify who our most active users are. It's smart to identify the kind of searches they're looking for, and focus on building that up. We want to be the first place our core customers come when they're looking for answers."

Last May, the media were buzzing about Ask.com, with scores of suggestions from the media offering ways that Ask.com could be successful against Google. Many of those suggestions included finding a niche to dominate. That's what's going on here, in a way, with Ask.com recognizing areas that are appealing to its users and building on those areas.

"We have to find ways to be unique and relevant to our core audience. We can do that by rendering answers in a meaningful way, which will inspire our core audience to keep coming back," Graham said.

The strategy is a sound one, which many companies in all industries take: give the people what they want. Ask.com knows that its core users often search a certain way. It only makes sense to build out features and results that will satisfy those users. By improving search results for its core users, Ask.com is improving search results for all its users.

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