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IAC’s search site Ask.com has tried numerous incarnations to capture some of the traffic and advertising gold possessed by Google (NSDQ: GOOG). Last year, it tried coupons. Before that, it promised more relevance, more engagement and less clicks. This time, it’s going back to its “Ask Jeeves” roots, with answers to questions from “experts” among the search site’s users.
In an interview with paidContent, Doug Leeds, Ask’s U.S. president, describes the latest revamp as a first step in a much larger strategy to deliver users answers — not just links — to all of their questions. Ask will find experts among its 87 million monthly users either by combing websites or getting experts to provide specific answers, while users comment to make sure the responses have some degree of validity.
“We’re not just relying on getting users to the right website — though that remains a part of it — but we’re getting answers from other users’ heads,” Leeds said. “In other words, we have the ability to draw on the Ask.com community to address questions for which no published answers exist.”
I asked Leeds if Ask.com would use freelance aggregators like Demand Media and Associated Content and if it had “how to” content in mind for its latest changes. “Those sites have have a very different business model from us,” he said. “We don’t want to make an arbitrage business out of search results. We just want to be the place where users can ask questions and get the best answers.”
Leeds said the changes represent an evolution for Ask. Whereas the freelance aggregators and Google try to get clicks, Ask has been trying to cut down on clicks, offering users the answers they seek on the same page as their query. When Leeds joined last year, 30 percent of the responses clicked through. Currently, 60 percent don’t require any clicking. Ask’s goal is to up that amount to 85 percent. “It doesn’t mean we can get the answers in milliseconds,” Leeds said, “but instead of quickest, we’ll aim for best.”
With IAC (NSDQ: IACI) head Barry Diller saying last winter that Ask is not for sale, the unit will have time to see if this relaunch can provide better answers to shareholders.