Ask.com isn't a bad search engine. In fact, the company has launched some innovative features over the years that have demonstrated their ambition and drive compete with search giant, Google. From walking directions in Ask Maps to voice-activated ones for when you're mobile and from 3D interfaces to smart answers to the privacy tool AskEraser, Ask.com tried to stand out from the other search sites by offering a useful and unique set of features.
Focus on Answers, Not Innovation
Unfortunately, despite these innovations, people stuck with Google. It seems that googling has more to do with habit than anything else these days - being innovative doesn't necessarily translate into users when it comes to search.
That's why back in March of this year, Ask.com had to cut 8% of their staff (about 40 jobs) and began the process of restructuring their company. At the time, the word was that Ask.com would return their focus to their core audience of middle-American predominantly female users. Soon after, Ask.com's spokesperson, Nicholas Graham came out to say that information was just "plain wrong." The truth was somewhere in the middle - yes, Ask.com would be trying to focus on what their (mostly female) audience needed, but they weren't by any means turning into a women's site. "We know that a sizable group of our core user base is women, and we know they come to us for a certain kind of search: to get answers, often in areas of reference, health and entertainment," said Graham.
Those answers are exactly what Ask.com is trying to focus on now. According to a Search Engine Watch article, Ask's internal research showed that searchers looking for answers came to Ask.com three times more often than they went to other search sites, so Ask.com's plan to focus on offering easy answers makes sense.
Here we are, nearly 5 months later, wondering how Ask.com's big plan is coming along thus far. As it turns out, the company seems to be pretty much on track.
To return their focus to providing just answers, Ask had to dump some other initiatives that weren't paying off. Only last week, for example, we heard the news that Ask.com had decided to forgo their own mapping service and partner up with Microsoft instead. (No more walking directions!) Using the Microsoft Virtual Earth platform saves Ask.com money on both the infrastructure as well as letting them save on the cost of the frequent imagery updates and photo acquisitions required to maintain a competitive mapping service.
To become more visible, Ask.com has formed another partnership, this time, with Opera. Yesterday, it was reported that Ask has partnered up with the small-but-growing web browser to be included in the search bar as one of the drop-down choices for search engines.
But of course the big news came on Thursday, when it was announced that Ask.com had completed their acquisition of the Lexico Publishing Group, which owned Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com, and Reference.com - a deal that is said to increase their unique monthly users by 11% to 145 million.
All these recent moves speak to Ask.com's decision to return to their core focus: answers. Instead of wasting money trying to be everything to everybody, they've outsourced the expensive of running a mapping portal and have acquired a company whose sites can help provide those short-and-sweet answers to some of the most common search queries. The only question that remains is whether these changes will be enough to give Ask.com a large enough piece of the search pie to keep their company sustainable.