The Slimmed-Down, Toned-Up Jeeves

Right around the time I started working in interactive media back in 2000, my agency, like many, relied heavily on business from e-commerce companies and e-tailers. Sites that sold luxury products, leather goods, and maternity clothing paid our bills. They monopolized the time of campaign planners, managers, and media buyers alike.

So naturally, shopping portals and popular properties became the sites of choice through which to promote our clients’ wares. Among the most desired were mySimon, BizRate,, and Ask Jeeves.

Jeeves’ endearing butler mascot and focus on natural-language “intuitive” searches was well liked at my shop, partly due to the strength of its brand. Ask Jeeves wasn’t just the name of a property, it was a slogan — and a powerful one at that. Today, if a colleague has a question, the response might be, “Why don’t you Google it?” During the dot-com boom, that reply was almost always, “Ask Jeeves.”

At the time, Ask Jeeves offered numerous promotional opportunities, particularly for e-commerce sites. Advertisers could buy keyword-based text and banner placements but could also submit products to be considered for inclusion in the engine’s search results. When Internet users entered a question indicating they might be interested in buying a product or service, Ask Jeeves would direct them to one of the verified shopping sites on its list.

A lot has changed over the past few years. In 2001, Ask Jeeves acquired and adopted respected search technology from Teoma and began making itself over to better compete with its search engine rivals. In 2003, it abandoned banners in favor of sponsored listings, the search engine ad placement du jour. It still offers a search tool in which shopping-related queries return product results, now largely drawn from comparison-shopping portal But it continues to upgrade, working to polish its image and site offerings after surviving the crash.

A series of these upgrades was announced just last week, garnering significant media attention. First, the site launched a personal Web space feature à la, offering users the ability to bookmark search results and providing personal storage space.

Second, it’s leveraging its partnership with geospecific Citysearch to allow users to conduct local searches in the same vein as Yahoo’s and Google’s new local search tools.

Finally, Ask Jeeves announced a partnership with news search site that will equip the engine with search results for local news. “Our strategy is to be consumer-centric and deliver the most relevant results,” said Jacquie Harrison, Ask Jeeves director of marketing, of the changes.

How will these changes affect Ask Jeeves’ advertising? To date, Ask Jeeves continues to offer its Branded Response and Premier Listings paid search ads as before, alongside the external listings it picks up from Google. According to Harrison, Ask Jeeves Inc. will also launch a host of new “integrated advertising solutions” in early October.

The solutions will span the property’s three networks: Ask Jeeves; the Excite Network (including Excite and iWon); and MaxOnline. Harrison says they will help distinguish Ask Jeeves from other search engines. She notes that along with “the ability to buy beyond,” offerings will include email, direct marketing, and, of course, search.

As a search engine, Ask Jeeves currently ranks only fifth in terms of use with a 7.0 percent market share, according to a June Nielsen//NetRatings report. Still, there’s plenty about it that appeals to advertisers aside from the upcoming advertising opportunities. The engine ranked fourth in a customer satisfaction survey, beating out AOL. It also experienced a 37 percent increase in search queries in Q2 2003 over 2002, when industry growth leveled out at 10 percent overall.

Nostalgia aside, it looks as if in months to come the answer for media buyers could again be, “Ask Jeeves.”

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