How Ask Jeeves Competes With the Big Guys

CHICAGO — Talking the talk is fine, but how does an advertiser walk the sponsored listings walk?

Well, Ask Jeeves.

The search engine launched sponsored listings — delineated ads above the natural search results — on its site accessed via and on Aug. 15. Its offering competes with Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL, all larger search engines. So how does Ask Jeeves get across its unique selling point?

Ask Jeeves principally talks about the unique audience that advertisers have access to through its sponsored listings, said James Speer, vice president of marketing and products of search marketing at IAC Advertising Solutions, Oakland, CA.

“The comScore numbers point to a 10 percent to 12 percent overlay between Ask Jeeves, AOL, Google, MSN and Yahoo,” Speer said. “What these numbers suggest is that there’s an untapped audience that advertisers can reach through Ask Jeeves’ sponsored listings. It’s not a zero-sum game. So we would not ask people to leave Google or Yahoo. Again, it gets back to the unduplicated audience. What we have heard from advertisers is that they’re looking to scale their programs and, to that end, we provide a perfect solution.”

How does the process work if an advertiser wants to sign up for a sponsored listings program, not just with Ask Jeeves, but others as well? Speer, who was attending this week’s Search Engine Strategies show, outlined a few typical steps.

First, the search engine takes a list of the keywords that the advertiser has identified and puts together a forecast of a projected monthly budget. That forecast takes into account the desired ordinal position — whether the advertiser wants to be in the first, second or third rank in the sponsored listings.

An important corollary to that step is looking at a maximum cost per click, which is the top bid an advertiser is willing to pay for the keyword.

These two pieces of information produce a baseline budget.

“If you wanted to buy all the queries associated with home mortgage, that would give you an idea of the hypothetical budget that you need,” Speer said.

Step two is a set of decisions on the part of the advertiser. Is it comfortable with the spend level? Since it is an iterative process, it may decide to change its maximum bid or switch the ordinal position.

Once the advertiser is comfortable with its budget, it develops a campaign around the listings. It can do this through self-service search engine marketing tools like Atlas OnePoint or those offered by Performics and Efficient Frontier.

Alternatively, the advertiser can use self-service tools provided by search engines like Ask Jeeves. Or it can work through the search engine’s account manager. At Ask Jeeves, the managed-account-level service requires a minimum sponsored listings budget of $5,000 a month.

The fourth step is optimization and tuning. Ask Jeeves, for example, offers hourly reports to advertisers on click-throughs received, the average cost per click, the budget spent so far and so on.

Finally, the advertiser ties that information with its conversion data to measure whether the return on investment within their programs is within bounds.

“Principally what we’re driving for is a more relevant result,” Speer said. “In our system, we use yield rank so the placement of ads is linked to the click-through rate. Our approach is to make sure relevancy is a key part of the equation.”

Those steps are what it takes to get a sponsored listings program up and running.

But why should an advertiser invest in sponsored listings over the algorithmic sort, both paid inclusion and natural?

“Really, it gets down to control,” Speer said. “With a sponsored listings program, as an advertiser you could decide today that you wanted to get a link out into the search engine and you can make it happen almost immediately. And you can gain access to almost the first listing on any page. With algorithmic — both paid inclusion and natural — you’re at the mercy of the search engines.”

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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