Engines search for a niche

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Scott Garell
Scott Garell

Engines search for a niche

Ask.com's Garell discusses search's continuing evolution

Q: What has — or hasn't — changed in the search world since you joined IAC Search & Media in 2004?

A: We still have four major global world class search engines: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask.com. You haven't seen a new player emerge with more than one to two million unique users in past few years. You haven't seen the things that are core elements of search like speed and relevancy and ease of use change. But, we have seen some blend­ing of multimedia into results — that's really becoming a trend. There are a lot of interesting places in terms of where search is going to go. I'd say we're at the end of the beginning.

Q: How does Ask.com differentiate itself from its competitors?

A: The average searcher still takes three to four clicks to get the answer they're looking for. We all want to get that answer in one click. We use a variety of technologies to try and pull the best answer right front and center on the search page. The goal is to reduce distance between your query and the answer you're looking for.

Q: How do you feel about the growing trend toward niche search engines, such as Ask for Kids?

A: It remains to be seen [how big] these niche search engines become over time. That being said, there are a lot of interesting experiments with startups. Ask for Kids is talking to a real addressable market: kids. No other search application directly addresses kids in the way we do. Ideally we'll get brand loyalty so as people migrate to more sophisticated engines, they'll go straight to Ask.com. Another site in vertical search we've launched is Rushmore Drive, an African-American targeted search engine. We're using our proprietary ad search technology to target that community. There's a lot of interesting things going on in niche search — we think ours are smart and hit large, addressable markets.

Q: How do these types of engines benefit advertisers?

A: If you can break down target more specifically and granularly, it's a chance for advertisers to reach a person that has a better propensity to convert and yield a positive ROI. You might pay a little more for the cost per click, but its more targeted and a much better opportunity for advertisers looking to target that particular market.

Q What other major trends are hap­pening in search that will change it over the next few years?

A: Natural language is huge. The user can type a query any way they want and get a direct answer. We don't speak in keywords. Voice and mobile search are also interesting to us. Imagine you're in your kitchen cooking, your hands are full, but you want to be able to pull up the cheesecake recipe. I think in a few years you'll see everyone wear­ing some type of device that will have Internet access. The emergence of user generated content and its integration into search results is also becoming a trend. We think there's a lot of personal and subjective information that would sometimes provide a much better answer than a published web page. Sometimes it can even be more relevant than traditional results.

Q: Where do you see search marketing changing in the near future?

A: I think it will move from cost per click to cost per action or acquisition. Everybody is going to be looking, espe­cially in this economic environment, for the true ROI. Part of that will be continuing to clean up the relevancy on search results pages.

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