Ask And Thou Shalt Receive

Nov 26th

If Google is smarter than humans, we must accept that it should be able to help us answer the difficult questions about life that are vital toward making humans reach their full potential, such that we may help computers become smarter, so that we may reach the singularity.

Sure some folks who took some funding are trying hard to build real communities around niches, but they are doing it all wrong.

The folks who are doing it right seem to have the answer to everything. Millions and millions of answers. The modern day Matthew Lesko of the search world.

 Aks from ebaumsworld + Matthew Lesko image from Popefauvexxiii  on Wikipedia + Google search result showing indexed Ask 'answer' pages.

Ask has long played the search arbitrage game, but they are stepping up their game.

Every authoritative site should have an answers subdomain.

Every site is an opportunity for more answers.

Why shut a site down, when you can just throw up some scraped & autogenerated pages and wrap them in a Google ad feed that pays out over 80%?

Even if you have redirected a site as a defunct relic for a decade, once you have your auto-generated content in place you can simply throw the domain in the hopper and generate a few million pages.

Why did Ask fold their search engine & focus on Q & A? They claim the following:

"The development of search as a technology has become commoditized. To continue to invest our own resources to do web search doesn't make sense because that development is expensive and doesn't give you a differentiated product," Ask President Doug Leeds said by telephone.

My contention is that their is no value spending the engineering resources to fight auto-generated spam if Google is paying you to create it. At some point one stack of money becomes much larger than the other.

Then again, speaking of differentiation, I wonder if Doug Leeds would care to comment on if answers content "has been commoditized" at all by them skirting around the intent of fair use laws (much like Youtube did to video content). Are they offering a "differentiated" service by turning tons of their sites into giant answer farms?

Ultimately this is much like Mahalo, but on a grand scale. At least they are not pointing expired redirects into their site (like eHow did) but if this trend continues look for thin answer sites wrapped in AdSense to become the equivalent of the auto-generated affiliate feed powered website of years gone by. The model is infinitely more scalable than content mills since the companies doing it don't actually have content costs: throw a keyword list in the hopper, send your scrapers out to "add value" & watch the money come in. Wherever something is working simply throw more related keywords in the hopper.

The lack of cost to the model means you can build thousands of pages around misspellings and yet still have it be profitable...the cost of creating each page is under a cent.

Who funds the creation of all this garbage? Google, via their AdSense program. It's a bit of Southern Hospitality from Google, if you will.

Own a forum website or answers website & are sick of seeing Ask outrank you by leveraging their domain authority + "fair use" of your content? Here is how to block their bot in robots.txt:

User-agent: Teoma
Disallow: /

Google has the ability to warp markets as they see fit, be it ad exchanges, tax policy, copyright, trademark, or hard coding the search results for self-promotion. While reading Gmail a couple minutes ago I saw the following ad, which I think prettymuch sums up Google's approach to search: monetize everything!

With great power comes great responsibility, however working on the Google spam team must feel a bit like the movie Brazil when watching this stuff unfold.

Remember how all kinds of affiliates were given the boot by Google for not "adding value"? How are lander pages like this one adding any value? 10 of 10 above the fold links are monetized. And it looks like their sites are using content spinning too!

The promise of the web was that it could directly connect supply and demand to make markets more efficient, and yet leading search engines are paying to create a layer of (g)arbitrage that lowers the utility and value of the network for everyone else, while pushing even more publishers into bankruptcy as the leeches grow in size & number.

My guess is that unless this short term opportunism changes, some of the star search engineers will leave in disgust within 12 to 18 months. Mark 2012 on your calendars, it will be a good year for clean search plays like Blekko and DuckDuckGo. ;)

Ask.com Leads the Charge to Monetize the Second Click

Mar 23rd

Ask has removed referral data from many of their ads, leaving advertisers flying blind. Ask.com, which has long been known as one of the leading Google AdWords arbitrage plays, also syndicated their ad feed to the point where Google forced them to turn off syndication. From there Ask has look for new ways to arbitrage search. They have created an automated deals section...

Which has over a million pages indexed in Google!

And the Ask.com search results themselves are a bit rough. Some of them promote featured articles from other IAC parners

Many of them have Ask.com answers in them, which scrapes questions and answers from across the web and wraps them in ads.

And some of the search results have multiple lead generation boxes on them (without any disclosure).

A good chunk of them have Wikipedia listed, but wrapped in ads & hosted by Ask.

A few more vertical ad types and/or general purpose web services (to complement answers, news, local, lead generation, Wikipedia, FreeBases, PPC ads) and a search engine would have no need to send searchers anywhere but to advertisers and itself.

I have no doubt that Ask's search results monetize at a higher rate than Google's, but that aggressive monetization also costs them marketshare. It is a trade off every business faces: maximizing short term yield, while keeping the business healthy and growing in the market.

Given that Google has been testing lead generation AdWords ads, pushing maps hard (while testing ads in the maps results - along with beta tests in big money categories like hotels), paid inclusion in their product search, and product images in the organic search results ... it wouldn't be surprising to see Google clone whatever looks like it is working good for Ask.

But Google will have to move slower on many of these fronts, because if they move too quickly they won't be able to defuse the blowback and anti-trust concerns. Given their recent user privacy snafu, and the current brand ad push where they are now trying to promote the categories they once claimed to have hate, the last thing they want to do is give people more reasons to distrust them and give regulators more reasons to give them another look. So new features launch as a limited beta test / experiment to a subset of users (and in many cases free to advertisers) to slowly release their business plans in a way that does not create too much concern. Small steps bring limited regulatory interference, and by the time concerns are voiced they can say "we have done that for years."

But as the Microsoft (or Wal-Mart) of the web, I wonder if it is a good idea for Google to make blog posts with titles like Now it's easy to switch to Google Apps from Microsoft® Exchange. The broader they spread search, the more likely they are to find their words working against them at some point. They can't claim to be agnostic while self serving ads and writing how to guides on switching away from competitors.

Ask.com to Launch Contextual Ad Network

SEL reports that Ask will soon roll out a contextual ad network, starting with their own premium branded sites:

The Ask contextual product will initially launch within IAC's own network of sites including Match.com, Ticketmaster, Evite and Citysearch and will then expand to trusted third party publishers. Individual publishers will most likely have to wait until next quarter to gain access to this contextual product.

What will they do with ticket scalpers? Currenty they are suing eBay's Stubhub.

Once Ask opens up their network to publishers, perhaps next quarter, they will allow you to match your ads for maximal earnings or maximal relevancy.

The Butler Dies

Sep 21st

Diller Sacks the Butler:

Jeeves is out of a job.

IAC/InterActiveCorp. (IACI:Nasdaq - commentary - research - Cramer's Take) is dropping the butler who doubles as the mascot of its recently acquired Ask Jeeves online search business.

The New York-based online empire, which acquired Ask Jeeves for $1.9 billion in July, plans to rebrand the Web site as Ask.com, CEO Barry Diller said Wednesday at an investment conference.

The article also mentions China next year. If they are smart they will talk to Shak before then, assuming they know what they want to do ;)

Ask Jeeves Pay Per Click Paid Listings

Aug 1st

Ask announced the launch of their pay per click advertising network. Advertisers will be able to buy pay per click ads directly from Ask as soon as the 15TH of this month.

Danny Sullivan has an article about the new Ask launch, and a subscribers only more in depth version as well.

For the most part their internal ad network will be a duplication of much of the core AdWords ranking technology (ad rank based upon CTR and CPC), and they will still use AdWords to backfill their ad network when they do not have many high value internal ads.

MSN should be launching their network around the end of this year, which will place Ask's ad network at #4 in terms of reach. With limited reach (Ask has around 5 to 6% of US search traffic), and the ability to buy ads that list on Ask directly from Google, it is going to be hard for Ask to build a large advertiser base.

What could help Ask gain exposure and mindshare for their new ad network (and may open them up to legal liabilities) is if they allow certain types of ads that people can't buy on other ad networks (such as US targeted gaming related ads). Controvercy equals free marketing.

They also should be able to do well in travel, loan, dating, and event ticket related verticals if they open up network ad space on IAC partner sites. Where would sold out concert ticket ads have any more value than being advertised on TicketMaster.com?

Advertisers will follow the inventory, so if IAC markets the heck out of Ask and increases search marketshare they will sell more ads. Running an internal ad network will allow them to be more flexible with how they monitize other properties and will make them less dependant on Google for revenue.

Ultimately the soon launching PPC networks has to be bad news for the smaller pay per click providers. Instead of Google, Overture, then FindWhat soon FindWhat (recently renamed to Miva) will be a number 5 position player, which can't bode well for their perceived traffic quality with how some of the other smaller pay per click engines are doing.

Ask Jeeves Zooms

May 26th

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Ask Jeeves now allows you to zoom in or out on a concept, as well as find related concepts. Andy has the scoop on the Ask Jeeves pressblog Search Engine Lowdown.

just giving you crap Andy :)

Defense of SEO, Ask Jeeves Profits Increase, Yahoo! Think Big Contest

Needed:
Danny Sullivan writes Worthless Shady Criminals: A Defense Of SEO

Decry a particular SEO tactic, if you want -- but don't decry the entire SEM industry as being rotten. If you want to do that, then here are some other stereotypes you'd also better buy into:

  • All car salesmen are crooks

  • All lawyers are crooks
  • Teachers teach because they can't do
  • Bloggers don't check facts

  • [Insert Race/Culture/Nationality Here] is [Insert Derogatory Comment/Stereotype Here]

Ask Jeeves:
Profits increase 35%

Yahoo!:
Think Big contest gives away 10,000,000 Yahoo! ad impressions. I think Jeremy Z should win with the Viagra Rolex Watches.

Yahoo! also thinks small. Cutting up ads on stored My Yahoo! web pages. Webmasters are already complaining about how My Yahoo! stores web pages.

Charity:
Google foundation may invest in for-profit firms. Am going to apply for a grant soon. Will let you know how it goes :)

Google Personalized (Gamma)

Google Inc. (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) on Wednesday debuted a test service called My Search History that analysts said is a move closer to personalized search, which is widely considered the Holy Grail for the Web search leader and its rivals. source

to use My Search History you must register at Google Accounts and maintain an active account. Ask Jeeves have had a search history tool for a while now and Yahoo! has My Yahoo! for various personalization effects, although Yahoo! seems more focused on providing news and blog feeds and the like. I think Yahoo! is betting on the abundance of information making subscribing to channels much more appealing than searching the web. I believe Yahoo! also allows you to subscribe to Yahoo! News feeds by keyword phrase.

Personalized search allows engines to better understand users to improve search quality and ad targeting. Whoever is branded as the best market solution on that front is going to make a bucket of cash, because keeping your search history and learning the user raises the barrier to switching search providers.

It makes it hard for another search service to be as relevant if you have tons of personal information already locked in a competing service. This data will be hard to export to other systems as well, as importing huge hunks of data will also allow marketers to import large volumes of spam.

I just briefly tested Google's service. It is fairly slick. You can quickly sign in or out and it adds minimal clutter to the Google home page.

From the link in the upper right corner you are brought to a new page. It shows a calender which color codes your search volume on the right side. The left side shows your searches for that day and the results you clicked on. The my history results that you click on also show up in the Google one box area when you search for similar terms using the regular search results.

Some privacy advocates would likely go nuts with this offering. It is all opt in though. I encourage everyone to sign in, search for seo, scroll past the Japanese stuff, and click on my listing.

Presumably some searchers may be able to build up a search history.
As they build it up it could build Google's trust in that user, which in turn could potentially allow Google to use that user feedback to verify search result relevancy.

If Google decides to use this data - which I think they may - the cost of spamming might increase significantly with how they have been going after automated search tools.

I would not doubt this to do a bit more of globalizing SEO. Paying people in third world countries to randomly click certain sites. I am already building a search history today as a prospective SEO tool.

Lots of Various Links

Hola:
Spainish Ask Jeeves

Lycos:
Lycos to use AlmondNet to target contextual ads

Who Owns Culture?
Webcast at 7pm Eastern tonight. Steven Berlin Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and he will be chatting with Jeff Tweedy and Lawrence Lessig.

Like Search Research?
DG's Desk links to a bunch of research papers.

SEO URL Tip:
this looks like a cool new blog about eBay, but why not spend the $8 /yr to buy a static domain name?

also, Gawker media lagunched Sploid. I think they come up with some pretty cool names.

Try Again:
Google alternate searches being tested? that or spyware...

Gel Conference:
April 28-29, 2005 New York City. Looks pretty cool.

Interview:
of MSN Search.

Across the Ocean:
apparently in the UK Online ad spend trumps airwaves

A Good Blog:
about social, legal, and economic issues.

Dirty Words:
Marcia. hehehe

Paris Hilton:
still looking for that video? view the Paris Hilton porncast podcast. you KNOW stuff is overhyped when a megacorp has Paris doing something.

Yahoo! Shopping:
rss feeds

VoIP:
AOL tries to be undead, launching a VoIP service. pricing structure hosed from the word go?

InterActiveCorp to Acquire Ask Jeeves?

Mar 21st

InterActiveCorp, the Internet company headed by Barry Diller, is close to an agreement to acquire Ask Jeeves Inc., the nation's fourth-largest search engine company, for about $1.9 billion, according to an executive involved in the negotiations.

An announcement could be made as early as today. - NYT

IAC own CitySearch, Expedia, HSN, and a ton of other web properties.

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