Ask.com is still fighting for a piece of the search market, hoping that Nascar dads can give it a leg up against Google, The Intimidator of search.
Dale Earnhardt's car was No. 3, but Ask.com is No. 4 in the search market, trailing Google, Yahoo, and Bing among active searchers. Still, Scott Garell, president of Ask Networks, believes that his company can grow its presence in search as the market comes around to Ask's longtime strategy of presenting Internet search as a series of questions and answers.
"We spend a lot of time figuring out how we can answer questions better than everybody else," Garell said. Ask thinks that the rise of semantic search--the idea that a search engine will understand the intent behind your query, not just the keywords--complements its approach to presenting search results.
All major search engines are examining different ways of presenting search results with semantic technology in mind. The idea is to allow queries to be presented in a more natural format instead of a series of keywords, and to present results with different types of data--pictures, graphs, videos, and the like--rather than page after page of search results.
Of course, the quality of your search results only matters from a business perspective if people use your site to conduct searches and click on an ad every now and then. This is a fundamental question for everyone whose brand is not synonymous with the verb "to search": Yahoo says it attracts searches from the massive traffic it enjoys on its myriad properties, and boosting that traffic will boost searches. Microsoft is spending millions of dollars to market Bing as a superior search experience.
In hopes of standing out among the crowd, Ask.com has turned to perhaps the most brand-saturated audience in America: Nascar fans. A Nascar race is a moving billboard of the top consumer brands in the world, but search engines are quite underrepresented among that audience.
Ask.com sponsors a car ( No. 96, Bobby LaBonte) and signed a deal to be the official search engine of Nascar and Nascar.com. During the telecast of a Nascar race, the company also inserts questions relevant to the race situation into the leaderboard crawl, hoping to drive television viewers to their laptops to search for the answers to those questions.
Is it working? Garell says the volume of search queries processed on the site has grown since February, the start of the Nascar season, but Ask.com's traffic is flat on a year-over-year basis, according to ComScore's May data. The company has been on a media tour of late, talking up its Nascar strategy in hopes of building buzz around the site.
But the ongoing battle for Ask.com will be staying relevant as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft all add semantic technology to their searches and continue to build on the strength of their own brands, which might require the IAC company to find something new in the search world to stand out from the pack. Garell hinted at upcoming announcements around real-time search and mobile search, two areas of search that are still relatively up for grabs as they evolve.
It's hard to see how Ask.com can break out of its niche, but the company is certainly trying something different in the search market, which always bears watching. Old habits die hard, however; the company has brought back Jeeves the butler in the U.K. in response to popular demand.