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May 19, 2006

The Importance of Getting In The Game

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I love Ask. I love their tools. I love their human focus. I respect their attempts to improve their search engine. And I love 10-year-old Eli Gerasouli. What I don’t love (yet) is the Ask blog – I think they can do more with it. In fact, I’m kind of demanding that they do.

The Ask.com blog could be an enormous branding tool for a company that has recently revamped its entire focus. While I love Ask’s recent TV ads, why spend millions of dollars on TV advertising when you have a blog falling into obscurity? Why not use that blog to spread the Ask word? Why not create strong word-of-mouth buzz to entice users to give Ask a chance. And yet they don’t. They let their blog lie dormant. And when blog posts do materialize, they often give users no (relevant) insight into the company or the individuals behind the post.

I present Ask’s last four blog posts (which spanned over two months) as evidence.

On April 28th, Ask blogged about the 33rd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. It was a worthy topic as this would be the first year an award was being presented for non-traditional programming (content created specifically for computers, mobile phones, iPods, etc.). However, the post served only to list and congratulate the respective nominees. There was no discussion or insight into the expanding video ad market or in the growth of non-traditional media itself. A significant conversation was dropped and an important message lost.

The next post dealt with the first series of Ask’s ads featuring Apostolo Gerasoulis. As everyone knows, we loved them.

Two weeks later we got our next post, Ask.com Employee Spotlight: Dmitriy Ryaboy. Great, an in-depth look at one of Ask’s Product Developers! Surely, there would be some insight in this one, right? Wrong. All we learned about Dmitriy was that, unlike most boys, he never grew out of his fantasy of being a knight. Yes, Dmitriy participates in full-contact medieval armored combat, outfits and all. It was a humanizing (though superficial) post, but now when I picture the boys of Ask, I picture them hitting each other. And of course, in my mind, they’re all on horseback.

I considered today’s post, Data Mining and Search, a personal assault. Reading the title lead me to believe that this post would be important. Something about how they’re fighting to improve search or a detail that would make me proud to be an Ask user. Unfortunately, this time all we learned was that a noted specialist recently hired by MSN (!) once co-authored a book with a member of Ask’s research and development center. What? The entry includes key details like that he’s a ‘mean guitar player’, while the post’s author plays bass. Not even mean bass.

I think Ask needs to step up and start using their blog more effectively. MSN Search uses their blog to update users on the search, their newly re-branded AdCenter and all the issues and delays regarding Windows Live Vista. Yahoo! does the same, and I’m pretty sure Googlers are ordered to begin blogging as soon as they finish signing their non-disclosure agreements.

Ask may be gaining market share, but a better advertising and branding strategy could have them gaining more. Their revamp and re-branded may have received a lot of attention from the SEO and tech world, but what about your everyday user? Have they noticed a difference in Ask? Have they heard about all the great changes? Probably not.

A recent forum post over at WebmasterWorld commented how Ask seems to be the only engine not participating in PPC advertising. Doing a search for the term “search engine” in any of the major engines will bring up paid ads for Google, Yahoo! and MSN. All the major players are there, except for Ask. Taking that one step further, performing a query for “best search engine”, regardless of which engine you use, will always bring up MSN Search. Now, that’s branding!

I don’t think purchasing paid ads will help Ask to receive a noticeable increase in market share, but I do think to compete you have to be in the game. It’s what we tell clients all the time at training: you have to be equal before you’re better. If your competition is participating in paid search, in order to stand a fighting chance at overtaking them, you have to be there as well.

And if Google, Yahoo! and MSN are all blogging, you better be blogging too. Blogs are a great way to spread and direct company buzz. They help give your company a friendly face and help you establish authority. If you don’t take advantage of that, you’re missing out. Ask needs to start utilizing their blog to establish connections with users. Give them an insight into what you’re working on and they’ll be more excited when it comes out. Let them feel a part of your company and you stand a better chance of them being loyal to you. Heck, give Eli a keyboard and let him write. I’d read that.

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