Ask Jeeves — sorry, Ask.com — is an old timer in the search business. Since its acquisition by InterActiveCorp (IAC) last year and its subsequent relaunch, announced with great fanfare last month by IAC CEO Barry Diller at Search Engine Strategies in New York, Ask has been evolving. It’s retired Jeeves the butler and adopted a new, vertically focused approach. We buttonholed James Speer, IAC’s VP of marketing and products, to find out what we can expect from the second-tier and rising engine.
Q and A With Ask
PS: From a marketer’s perspective, what opportunities are currently available to target a local audience on Ask.com?
JS: We know users are after local information; more than 10 percent of all searches on Ask.com are explicitly local. While we offer a specific Local channel on Ask.com, users don’t need to use that channel to find local results. Ask.com does its best to return results that match the user’s intent. For example, search for “restaurants in new york” and you get business listings for top-rated restaurants with phone numbers, addresses, and more. Search for “weather in san francisco,” and you get current temperature, connections and links to a detailed weather report, a seven-day forecast, and more. Advertising opportunities here are through Citysearch.
On search results pages, there are keyword-based ads served on a PPC basis from our own Ask Sponsored Listings product.
We deliver local results through algorithmic search powered by our ExpertRank technology. There are no advertising opportunities in natural listings, even paid inclusion, so advertisers should be sure that addresses and contact information are easily found by our indexing engine and that this information is not included in images.
Our Local search vertical is available through the Ask.com Toolbox, which provides shortcuts to over 20 search tools, including Local (for business listings), Maps & Directions, and Weather.
For business listings, we partner with Citysearch and InfoUSA. Citysearch provides millions of user and editorial reviews and ratings, as well as directory listings. Citysearch provides the Sponsored Listings in Ask.com business results. Businesses should ensure that they have up-to-date data with Citysearch and InfoUSA.
PS: What might a local campaign look like on Ask.com?
JS: For placement on the main Ask.com search results page, advertisers should purchase listings via Ask Sponsored Listings. For deep inclusion within the local search vertical channel, advertisers can purchase sponsored listing placement via Citysearch. Later this year, many Citysearch inventory opportunities will be available directly via Ask Sponsored Listings.
PS: What are best practices at this point on Ask.com?
JS: Because so many queries are Zip Code- or city-referenced, we encourage marketers to add these parameters to their listings. The extra effort will be rewarded with more clicks at a lower cost. [Leveraging “broad match” targeting to reach these users results in higher CPCs and lower click-through rates.”
It also helps to include references to city names in a listing’s title and description. Listings created in this way can also be run on Google, Yahoo, and MSN.
PS: What are the biggest challenges?
JS: Adding local parameters to keyword listings can increase the number of listings four- or fivefold. To manage the larger number of listings, advertisers can use the bulk listing management tools available in our console.
PS: What opportunities are on the horizon for 2006?
JS: We’re still expanding the distribution of our listings to other IAC properties. This increases access to local searchers and makes advertising campaigns more efficient. We’re evaluating a pay-per-call/click-to-call extension for Ask Sponsored Listings. [And” we’re planning user interface, workflow, and performance enhancements later this year that will make it easier to manage local targeted listings.
PS: What integration has taken place and what is yet to come in terms of local search results with other Ask.com features/products?
JS: We integrate business listings with our Maps product and expect deeper integration in the future, now that Ask.com and Citysearch are part of the same company. We believe we have the best Maps product among the major engines, and we’re excited about the next generation of local services.
PS: What can you tell us about pay-per-call/click-to-call on Ask.com?
JS: Ask.com is now testing a pay-per-call offering with several large advertisers. We’re evaluating several user experiences, including provisioned 800-numbers in the listing and landing pages specifically designed to facilitate the call process. The timing of a larger scale release remains to be seen.
PS: Are there opportunities at this point for local advertisers on mobile platforms?
JS: Mobile is a focus area for us, as it’s an important access point for users. We haven’t introduced our mobile platform yet, but stay tuned for information about mobile ad opportunities on Ask.com.
PS: How does Ask.com differentiate itself from the other emerging local products from competitors?
JS: Ask.com offers local search through the main search box, as well as through the Local search vertical. Local search on Ask.com isn’t just business listings; it’s also white pages, maps, driving/walking directions, movie tickets, weather, ski reports, tides, and more. Everything is local.
Barry Diller has said he plans to take the major search engines head on. We’ll be watching to see how some of these plans come to fruition over the next few months.
Join us for Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, April 25-26, 2006.
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