Ask Revamps for Faster Web Search, More Relevance

By Reuters -  |  Posted 2008-10-06

NEW YORK (Reuters) - IAC Corp's is overhauling its Web search engine to deliver faster results and improved relevance as it bids to win share from market leader Google Inc.

Ask Chief Executive Officer Jim Safka said on Monday his company could win customers with a search that is 30 percent faster than before. Early tests showed a 16 percent increase in the rate at which customers returned to use its new search page, he said.

The company believes it can grow market share and revenue by taking advantage of the distractions of competitors such as Yahoo Inc and Microsoft Corp, who have spent much of the year in on-off merger talks. Yahoo and Microsoft are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in U.S. search.

"We view this as a 24-month window of opportunity that we can drive a truck through," Safka said in a interview with Reuters.

Safka said if Ask increased the rate at which customers returned to its site and attracted new users, it would increase the advertising revenue it brings in.

The majority of Ask's revenue comes through a search advertising partnership with Google, which brings up links of relevant advertisers in response to a user's search query. IAC said in July that Ask's revenue per query increased last quarter thanks to the improved economics of the much larger Google search ad platform.

Yahoo reached a similar agreement with Google in June. That deal has been opposed by some industry watchers on antitrust grounds and is being reviewed by regulators.

Google is the dominant Web search service in the United States, growing in August to more than 63 percent market share, according to comScore, a Web audience measurement firm.

Yahoo was second, with a fall to 19.6 percent share, and Microsoft dipped to 8.3 percent in third. Ask was fourth, growing slightly to 4.8 percent.

"It's all about growth; this category is growing no matter what the economy is doing," said Safka.

Ask is making its push globally as it tries to win more users in countries outside the U.S., like the UK.

But Ask Europe managing director Cesar Mascaraque said his company will relaunch in Europe with a focus on Ask's strengths, rather than simply being another generic search engine competing for users with Google.

"By trying to be everything to everyone, we actually managed to be nothing to no one," said Mascaraque in an interview with Reuters.

"For me, Google is the boy racer. As you grow older, as you mature, you look for other things: trust, safety."


Safka said its relaunched search engine will improve search relevance by adding structured data feeds to its results rather than finding random or unorganized data from around the Web like most search engines do.

For instance, when a user searches for "What's on TV tonight?" the results will bring up licensed television listing results for the user's local cable operator, based on the IP address, or on local zip code, should the user enter that.

"We're expanding the depth and breadth of our structured data to bring users serendipitous results," said Safka.

He said it takes consumers three clicks to find what they are seeking online.

"'s goal is to reduce this to one click of the search box," he added.

(Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in London)

(Editing by Andre Grenon and Gerald E. McCormick)