Does Ask.com Matter to Marketers?

You may have read that Ask.com has cut 8 percent of its work force and plans to bring back the questions-based query model preferred by its core audience of women in the Bible and Rust Belts. Reuters and WSJ separately reported details on the business decision yesterday.

The search community clearly hates this development, which it sees as helping pave the way (along with Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo) for a duopoly in search. Ask had become known in recent years as “the little engine that could,” and with its move today the company has given up being a real contender in search.

Ask doesn’t matter a ton to marketers since it outsources most of its advertising to Google. However it does offer placements across its own search and content network through Ask Sponsored Listings. I won’t be surprised if that program becomes more lucrative in the short term, as Ask narrows its focus on women in the heartland.

The long term is a different story. Over time, the new strategy will lead to searcher attrition and eventually obsolescence as all those thirty and forty year old women become fifty and sixty year old women, then seventy and eighty… well, you get the idea. As for future Ask.com acolytes, there will be none. Who really believes all the twenty-something girls in the Midwest are suddenly going to hit thirty and give up Google for Ask?

Update: Ask challenged some of my suppositions above, including that the company will focus completely on women. “We don’t agree that there won’t be future Ask acolytes,” a spokesperson said during a lengthy discussion this morning. “We have to and we’re going to tip our hat to that key demographic [women], but there are a lot of factors that go into this strategy.”

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