Jeeves Asks for Google’s Ads

There have been strange partnerships in the world of search, but last month’s alliance between Ask Jeeves and Google was surely one of the most unexpected. The three-year deal commencing in September will see Ask Jeeves carrying paid listings from Google on its search properties, including Ask Jeeves-owned Teoma, positioned as a Google killer.

“We had lots of different people saying, ‘How could you do this with Google?'” said Steve Berkowitz, president of Ask Jeeves Web Properties. “This is just one small space on our site, and this is the best product.”

Ask Jeeves is not backing away from plans to build Teoma into a crawler-based search engine to match (if not beat) Google. That’s the “big” space on the Ask Jeeves and Teoma sites. It’s Teoma results that Ask Jeeves wants to distribute to other players. The company thinks if it can focus on making that big space great, partners will choose Teoma to power their results.

Of course, those partners will expect to earn money by carrying Teoma, which is where paid listings come in. Ask Jeeves wants to provide what I call an “all in one” search solution, one combining quality editorial results and paid listings. Teoma supplies Ask Jeeves with the editorial portion and some associated revenue through paid inclusion. However, Ask Jeeves still needs paid placement listings to accompany Teoma’s results.

What’s wrong with getting them from Overture, Ask Jeeves’s current partner? Overture apparently wanted restrictions on the partners Ask Jeeves could approach with a combined product. In contrast, Google was willing to give Ask Jeeves free rein.

That flexibility was essential for Ask Jeeves as it views syndicating its combined product as key to the company’s future. It was a major coup for Google to win over Overture.

“The ability to go out to small and mid-tier sites is an opportunity,” said Berkowitz. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t shut any doors on ourselves.”

The deal is valued at least $100 million over the next three years by both companies. Though Berkowitz won’t say exactly how much Ask Jeeves will get, he did say it receives the “lion’s share” of revenue.

Google’s paid listings replace Overture’s, currently appearing under the heading, “You may find these sponsored links helpful” at Ask Jeeves and the “Sponsored Results” heading at Teoma. “You may find my search results helpful” listings at Ask Jeeves are powered by Teoma.

In most cases, the “Click Ask below for your answers” area at the top of the page continues to come from Ask Jeeves editors. Some human-powered results may also now appear in the “You may find these options useful” section at the bottom of the page.

Previously, this section had “meta search” results, but Ask Jeeves has dropped them due to low click-through rates. The results have been on the service since it launched in early 1997. It’s no loss to users because over the past year or so, results from this section were typically only from paid listing search engines. The traditional meta-search value had long been abandoned.

Dropping the section helps bring Ask Jeeves more in line with recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines on paid listing disclosures. The company also changed the area where its own limited internally sold paid listings appear. That section now says “You may find this featured sponsor helpful,” rather than “You may find this featured listing helpful,” bringing it further in compliance. Ask Jeeves now discloses paid inclusion happens within the Teoma-powered portion of its results.

Paid listings at Ask Jeeves UK continue to be powered by Espotting and appear at the top of the “Pick a website from the list below” section. Editorial listings from Teoma follow in the area, if there’s room. Meta-search functionality continues at Ask Jeeves UK, though three of the five sources are paid listings search engines.

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