Ask.com Seeks Loyal Female Users through Charity Effort

As Ask.com struggles to carve out a niche in the search market, it is tailoring its site to appeal to specific audiences. The IAC-owned site plans to unveil a new target market in the next few weeks, and in the meantime, is setting its sights on the more general female audience through a new program tied to a breast cancer-fighting charity.

Through a partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a grassroots network of breast cancer activists and survivors, the firm hopes to raise awareness of the disease and help educate people about it. A variety of homepage skins featuring a series of breast cancer-related questions will be available through the end of October, Breast Cancer Awareness month. As users answer questions correctly, they’ll score points resulting in a donation to Komen of up to $0.50 per person. Ask will invest $1 million by December 2010 to promote education about the prolific disease.

According to Ask Networks President Scott Garell, Komen approached the search company to initiate the project. Ask sees the relationship as a way to raise its own profile when it comes to health-related searches. It also hopes it will promote the site to women. “We felt it was a large market,” said Garell, adding that health is a top category of questions posed through the search engine.

The firm has banked on an effort centered on NASCAR to help bring in new and loyal users. In January, Ask became the official search engine of the stock car racing association, and powers search on NASCAR.com. It also enhanced related search results, and lets users choose skins featuring drivers or race cars. Garell said the company believes Komen supporters also could become loyal to Ask if it helps support the cause. Ask backed a similar charity-related program during Autism Awareness Month in April. When users chose homepage skins featuring educational information about the condition, Ask donated $0.50 to Autism Speaks. The company said users downloaded nearly 100,000 autism-related skins.

It’s unclear whether Ask’s audience-tailored approach will help it gain search market share or sell more ads. The company has an ad distribution deal with Google, enabling marketers to buy ads through Google that are displayed in Ask search results. Many search marketers rely on their Google ad buys to get them placement in Ask results.

Still, Ask appears to be carrying through with its strategy to target niche audiences it hopes they will be loyal to the search underdog. Garell told ClickZ News last week the company will announce another “large” target market in the next few weeks in keeping with the NASCAR approach. Although he was not specific, he said, “It is going to resonate with what’s on people’s minds given the economy.”

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