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Ask was originally created as Ask Jeeves, and was founded by Garrett Gruener and David Warthen in 1996 and launched in April of 1997. It was a natural query processing engine that used editors to match common search queries, and backfilled the search results via a meta search engine that searched other popular engines.

As the web scaled and other search technologies improved Ask Jeeves tried using other technologies, such as Direct Hit (which roughly based popularity on page views until it was spammed to death), and then in 2001 they acquired Teoma, which is the core search technology they still use today. In March of 2005 InterActive Corp. announced they were buying Ask Jeeves, and by March of 2006 they dumped Jeeves, changing the brand to Ask

On Page Content

For topics where there is a large community Ask is good at matching concepts and authoritative sources. Where those communities do not exist Ask relies a bit much on the on page content and is pretty susceptible to repetitive keyword dense search spam.


Ask is generally slower at crawling new pages and sites than the other major engines are. They also own Bloglines, which gives them incentive to quickly index popular blog content and other rapidly updated content channels.

Query Processing

I believe Ask has a heavy bias toward topical authority sites independent of anchor text or on the page content. This has a large effect on the result set the provide for any query in that it creates a result set that is more conceptually and community oriented than keyword oriented.

Link Reputation

Ask is focused on topical communities using a concept they call Subject-Specific PopularitySM. This means that if you are entering a saturated or hyper saturated field that Ask will generally be one of the slowest engines to rank your site since they will only trust it after many topical authorities have shown they trusted it by citing it. Due to their heavy bias toward topical communities, for generic search they seem to be far more biased on how many quality related citations you have than looking as much at anchor text. For queries where there is not much of a topical community their relevancy algorithms are nowhere near as sharp.

Page vs Site

Pages on a well referenced trusted site tend to rank better than one would expect. For example, I saw some spammy press releases on a popular press release site ranking well for some generic SEO related queries. Presumably many companies link to some of their press release pages and this perhaps helps those types of sites be seen as community hubs.

Site Age

Directly I do not believe it is much of a factor. Indirectly I believe it is important in that it usually takes some finite amount of time to become a site that is approved by your topical peers.

Paid Search

Ask gets most of their paid search ads from Google Ad Words. Some ad buyers in verticals where Ask users convert well may also want to buy ads directly from Ask. Ask will only place their internal ads above the Google Ad Words ads if they feel the internal ads will bring in more revenue.


Ask heavily relies upon the topical communities and industry experts to in essence be the editors of their search results. They give an overview of their Expert Rank technology on their web search FAQ page. While they have such limited distribution that few people talk about their search spam policies they reference a customer feedback form on their editorial guidelines page.

Social Aspects

Ask is a true underdog in the search space. While they offer Bloglines and many of the save a search personalization type features that many other search companies offer they do not have the critical mass of users that some of the other major search companies have.

Ask SEO Tools

Ask search results show related search phrases in the right hand column. Due to the nature of their algorithms Ask is generally not good at offering link citation searches, but recently their Bloglines service has allowed you to look for blog citations by authority, date, or relevance.

Business Perspectives

Ask is owned by Inter Active Corp. While Ask is considered to be far behind the running in search volume Barry Dillar, their CEO, has made a large comeback in the television space in the past.

Inter Active Corp. has some of the strongest brands in expensive niches such as online dating, loans, and travel. If they sell ad inventory space in some of those top tier markets they can have a significant effect on the search landscape in many markets. They also push the Ask.com search box on many of those well branded sites.
Ask's two biggest weak points are

  Their limited distribution
  Their heavy reliance on Google for providing their sponsored links

Search Marketing Perspective

Ask generally has such limited market share that I have never really worried much about them. If I was in a vertical where they drove significant traffic I might pay a bit more attention to them. If you are in one of the verticals where they have a strong brand it will be worth it to watch how they bias their search results and / or search ads toward their other internal properties, and how strongly they push their search offering on those properties.

In areas where there is a limited relevant community to build their topical community around their relevancy drops sharply.

Learn More about Ask

Other Search Systems

Classic large scale hyper textual search engines are only one type of an information retrieval and organization system. There are many other types of search that we do not think of as being search.

Example Vertical Search Engines

General large scale web search is just one type of search. There are many other types of search engines and information organization tools, for example

      The Yellow Pages
       Television program guides
       Directories like DMOZ, the Yahoo! Directory, LII, or specialty directories
       Encyclopedia type sites like Wikipedia
      Large general structured databases like Google Base
      Shopping search like Froogle
      Local search like Google Local
      News search like Yahoo! News
      Blog search like Technorati
      Tag search like Del.icio.us
      Video search like YouTube
      Photo search like Flickr
      Meme trackers like Techmeme
      Social communities like Digg
      Social networks like MySpace
      Some people may also rely on an individual content channel or a group of them to find the most interesting things and deliver it through daily updated content streams

Limitations of Vertical Search

Vertical search services typically

      Have exceptionally limited scale through running everything through central editors, or
       They have less editorial control than large scale search engines.

Vertical search is limited because

      There fewer available signs of quality they can measure in their algorithms, and
       Many of them use how recent something is as one of their sorting signals, and
       They typically have less content available (due to content copyright restrictions or limited available content)

Ways to Organize Vertical Search

Thus vertical search services have to rely on trusting vetted content partners or they must heavily rely on things like usage data. Some vertical services are even based around displaying the most popular items (like Digg) or most frequently viewed items (like Popular Google Videos or Google Video Movers & Shakers).

Many search systems are thin me too aggregators, but by limiting their data sources, structuring their sources, or providing a different means of search many of these search systems are more useful than general global search systems.

Vertical Folds Into General Search

Danny Sullivan wrote a piece called Searching With Invisible Tabs which talks about how Google will fold vertical search into their global search product.
From a marketing perspective the things you have to remember are

      Some vertical search services are harder to get into due to editorial vetting processes
      Some vertical search services are easy to dominate due to limited competition
       Vertical search is being folded into many global search products

Search Engines as Efficient Media Companies

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are all trying to increase ad network efficiency and extend current ad networks to place more relevant ads in current ad systems and to increase the accessibility of ads to smaller merchants via automation and hyper-targeting.

      Google is launching a payment processor which will help them get better conversion statistics. That will allow them       to improve ad targeting and increase ad automation.
       Google is trying to roll out free WiFi services so they can track mobile search ads.
       After a few media companies find a way to make sense of the search model many others will likely trickle across.
       Yahoo! bought Flickr, Del.icio.us, Upcomming, and many other vertical search companies.
       Microsoft bought Massive, Inc., a company which sells targeted ads in video games.
       Google paid roughly 1 billion dollars to buy dMark Broadcasting, a radio advertising automation network.
       Google is trying to sell ads in print media.
       Google is doing research on passive automation of social web integration into the television experience

The search battle is general a battle for near perfect market data which can be leveraged in a near infinite number of ways, with each additional vertical or efficiency lending the network to a potentially larger scale AND an even greater network efficiency.

Due to brand limitations and limited market size many vertical search services will remain unscathed by global search powerhouses, but as search improves in efficiency the major search engines will swallow many additional markets and make them more efficient.




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