Ask.com has stepped up its game, launching a new multi-faceted search interface that sets it apart from other search engines and aims to give users a legitimate reason to give Ask.com a try.
The new version of Ask.com has been dubbed "Ask3D" for its three-paneled search results representing the three stages of each search: type a query, review results, and click through to content. While other search engines tend to treat this process as a step-by-step undertaking, Ask3D is presenting all three steps on a single page, to align more closely with the way people actually search, according to Doug Leeds, VP of product management at Ask.com.
"Google and other search engines, including Ask.com until now, have looked at search as a linear process, where one step follows another in a strict progression. What we actually know is that it's not linear at all," Leeds said. "People will type a query, review results, click through, then come back to review results, refine a query...it's an iterative process."
By putting information needed for each step in the process on one page, Ask3D makes it easier for users to search in that manner, and gets users to the information they're looking for and off the page faster, he said.
That strategy, as a pure search play instead of a portal strategy, is what will help Ask.com differentiate itself as the one search engine alternative to Google, Leeds said.
"Outside the industry, when people think about search, they think about Google. Yahoo ceded that territory to Google, and it shows in the way Yahoo has built its products. People don't go to Yahoo to search. They go there for e-mail, news, finance – these are all loss-leaders that can be monetized with search," Leeds said. "The only other search brand that's anywhere on the map is Ask.com. We're positioning the brand as the place to go for search."
The quirky, attention-getting billboards proclaiming that "The algorithm killed Jeeves," or "The algorithm is from Jersey" have been stirring up conversation in the industry, not all of it positive. While some have praised the billboards, and the ensuing TV campaign centering on the algorithm, for piquing user interest, others think that some of the billboard messages, such as "The Unabomber hates the algorithm," go too far.
The edgy campaign was created by the Ask marketing team and ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, best known for its "Subservient Chicken" campaign for Burger King, and its recent "Un-pimp Your Ride" ads for Volkswagen. The goal of the campaign is to get non-tech users to wonder what an "algorithm" is, and ask their tech influencer friends, who will hopefully say good things about Ask.com, Leeds said.
"The idea is to stimulate discussion, and to reach a group one step past the tech influencers," he said. "To people in the industry, the message doesn't resonate because they know what an algorithm is. But if you don't know what it is, you're basically substituting the word 'technology' for 'algorithm,' and asking someone you trust. For them, it has a very different flavor."
The attention-getting campaign is merely the first step in a long-term strategy to position Ask.com as the only legitimate alternative search engine to Google, and become a brand people know and associate with search, Leeds said. The launch of Ask3D will give searchers that are already familiar with the brand a reason to give it another try.
The results in Ask3D go beyond Web pages to include images, video, news, weather, and other data. While Google's recent Universal Search release intermingles the various siloed search results into a single ranked list, Ask3D keeps those siloes separate, and only shows a certain type of media if it's relevant to the query.
For example, a search for rock band U2 returns Ask.com's usual Smart Answer at the top of the center column, followed by two sponsored listings and then organic search results. The right-hand column adds results for video or image searches, links to MP3 files from iLike, event listings from AskCity, and encyclopedia results from Wikipedia.
A search for Boston brings up a map of the city atop the center column, and results for image search, news images, a local music guide from AllMusic, a Wikipedia page, and weather.
You'll find a thorough look at the new features in today's SearchDay, Ask.com Launches Major Updates.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
With a combination of real-world marketing experience and years of business journalism, Kevin brings to ClickZ a unique ability to deliver news and training materials that help online marketers do their jobs better.