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Jim Lanzone of Ask – Tuesday SES San Jose Keynote

Mike Valentine

Day 2 of Search Engine Strategies San Jose 2007 began with keynote conversation between CEO Jim Lanzone and SES co-chair Chris Sherman. Over the past day at three different sessions where both Yahoo and Ask had representatives on the panel, the moderators, speakers, and audience questions have focused entirely around Google. This happens simply because Google has over half the search market and they matter more to search marketers for the dramatically higher levels of search traffic referrals they generate.

We care about our top sources of traffic more. So it’s got to be frustrating to the representatives of the search engines on panels and in keynotes to hear the name of their competitor tossed about endlessly. Lanzone started the discussion by commenting on the major news organizations headlines like, “In Attempt to Topple Google, Launches 3D Search” – thus saying that Ask doesn’t develop the product in ways that benefit the product and the user, but rather only to compete with Google.

But Lanzone handled it with style and didn’t react with anger to the favoritism. He stressed that Ask and Google are parnters, not necessarily competitors – when he stressed that Ask shares big dollars with their competition in this case and stressed that a renewal with Google for the contextual search product would be a “Multi-Billion Dollar Deal – if we renew it with them.” We’ll that’s a fairly public negotiation. Take that legal department negotiators.

Lanzone also said that he sees Google as “A Data Source” – yes they are, Billions of times a day – oh, you meant for you too. That seems like a rather clear slap at Google to reduce a company that has taken over the search space and dominates the market – as a “Data Source”. Well we all love our Data Source, just like we love our mothers I suppose – but we don’t refer to Mom as something similarly dry like “incubating chamber”.

Sherman asked about the “Culture” of Ask, comparing the Google small and nimble innovation teams and the MSN massive machine to Ask, to which Lanzone responded with a suggestion that they like to see teams with the left brain and right brain people working together on new products. Which didn’t go far or produce enlightening answers.

Sherman brought up the flare-up in concern over privacy this summer and Ask announced the new “Ask Eraser” product which will allow users to request that all their personally identifying data be wiped from Ask databses. Lanzone responded with a rather odd answer, sort of downplaying the value and importance of a privacy protection tool by saying, “I’m surprised that got as much play in the media as it did – it has been a slow news summer.”

This suggests that Lanzone doesn’t see privacy as a priority, but that they’ve offered it to their users to calm them some in hopes that they can move on and just use the data of those who don’t opt-out. This brought Sherman to ask about whether Ask can offer personalization tools if they are wiping user data. But Lanzone countered saying that users must specifically opt-in to the search history and “MyStuff” settings in order to use those – so their data will still be used.

So finally, Sherman moved on to talk about the Ask product and 3D search asking what effect the development of that new interface will have on search marketers. To which Lanzone replied, “I’m not sure, a lot probably, but I’m not sure in what ways…” since it is so extensive and changes searcher behavior dramatically.

Lanzone mentioned how the new 3D search home page has reduced uses of their own image search product by a significant amount and told how users are engaging directly with images off the results page by clicking on images from that results page. This is clearly the effect all the search engines are expecting from users, though each to different levels and to different effect.

Though Lanzone didn’t address it here, Yahoo is using their “Blended Search” to keep users on the Yahoo site, a gripe many marketers have had about Yahoo for years. We’ll see where it goes with Ask on 3D search. Although if they gain significant market share, it will likely be at the expense of MSN – and Yahoo.

They jumped to the 3D search product appears quite effective, but until it sends significant search referrals to webmasters, they are not likely to be among the fans of 3D search, nor will they pay much attention to it for more than personal use.

I’d like to have seen him pressed for more of a succinct answer on that question from Sherman – and so would the audience. But Sherman moved on to another topic – Mobile search – to which Lanzone responded that he sees it as an important part of the search market. He pointed out how it is actually quite incredible that you can have a mobile phone in your hand, type the letter “P”, and have an autocomplete dropdown for a list of queries, choose the query “Pizza” and then you click “Search” and get a list of reviews, an option of “Near You” for maps and phone numbers, then click the phone number to make the call and order.

I agree, that is quite impressive and find it quite incredible myself, although few current phone interfaces work quite that well, at least not yet.

Sherman asked Lanzone for a reaction on Google’s intention to bid on wireless spectrum and Lanzone seemed to dismiss it, saying that it “is so far afield from what we do…” so Ask appears not to be playing in the wireless game. He said, more or less, “Good for them” and wished them luck on it.

Lanzone mentioned the Ask search numbers of 50 million monthly, calling it “Collective Search” and then Sherman asked an intriguing question that I’d like to see expanded on SIGNIFICANTLY as it would have a dramatic effect on search and could convince me to use Ask, just because they were doing it. He asked about the idea of “Tagging” each link that was clicked with the search query and said he’d heard it mentioned my an Ask engineer at another conference. I’d LOVE to hear more about that as it has huge implications. Although all search engines could use this, If they incorporate it into results, it could dramatically change user behavior. Hmmm.

They wound it up with a video clip Ask will be running which shows the 3D product in use and compares it to “10 blue links” to diss Google – er no I mean “Alta Vista”. So he said with a grin and tongue firmly in cheek.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jenn August 29, 2007, 9:57 am

    I have always been a big fan of Ask. I still predict that they grow in market share eventually beating out Yahoo (well, hopefully beating out Yahoo) and MSN, and bringing stiff competition to Google.

    Just looking at the target market based on research. The average internet user is a woman roughly 30-40 years of age. Ask has targeted these users and will continue to grow as a result.

  • AussieWebmaster August 30, 2007, 1:00 am

    mate….. I read the piece for webpronews about the pr train wreck session….

    do I just start now…. this site is not exactly a stellar example of search information….

    basics…. the monthly archives go to dead 404 pages…. and from there it has to be my new example of what is an unoptimized blog….

    advanced…. content…..

  • RealitySEO August 31, 2007, 9:30 pm


    You’ve got me on the archive issue. I haven’t been able to quickly figure out how to fix it. It has been like that since I set up with Blogger in 2004, but hasn’t been worth spending the time to fix. You are also assuming I’m publishing the blog for optimization purposes and it’s not so. I understand if you don’t like the content – no problem there.