Ask Beginning to Break Through

For quite some time, I’ve been wondering if my user “Spidey-Sense” was wonky. From everything I saw about the Ask 3-D interface, it should have been gaining marketshare. Also, for all my preaching about build a better user experience and you’ll reap the rewards, Ask’s reaping appeared to be a little on the grim side, lingering at about 3.5% of the market. But finally, according to a recent post by Bill Tancer over at Hitwise, my instincts seem to be back on track. Take a look at this graph:


Ask is finally making a move. And their “share of search” has moved up from 3.49% of executed searches in August to 4.32% of searches in October, a bump of 23.7%. That’s huge. Bill wonders if it has anything to do with the ads Ask is running. I suspect it has a lot more to do with a great interface and some user generated buzz that’s beginning to catch some ears. Michael Ferguson and his team did exactly what they needed to do, shake things up by thinking about what users want.

Ask’s strategy has always been to be your first second choice. They don’t ever expect to knock Google out of the lead, but what they want to do is be the place you turn when you find Google just isn’t cutting it. So their move to 3D made a lot of sense. For certain types of searches, notably entertainment or discovery searches, users want something more than Google’s spartan, click and get out interface. They want a stickier, richer, more visual appearance. They want Ask 3D. We found the interface tested pretty well in our recent Search:2010 Eye Tracking study for entertainment based searches.

In fact, Marissa Mayer at Google paid Michael and his team the ultimate compliment when she mentioned the likelihood of Google moving to more of a portal, encyclopedia type format sometime in the future. So..that would make Google more like..Ask!

I will be watching with interest Ask’s marketshare numbers over the next 6 months. Again according to Hitwise, the jump regains all the marketshare they’ve lost in the last year, and puts them a lot closer to the current number 3, Microsoft, who is sitting just 3 and a half points ahead at 7.83%. Microsoft has been on a continuous slide for the past year, dropping 3 full points. Yahoo seems perpetually stuck between 22 and 23%. Google has captured most of the fallout, adding those 3 points to their marketshare numbers. But Google’s .5% drop in the last month seems to have gone directly to Ask, showing that the “First Second Choice” strategy might be paying off. Like Jim Lanzone said to me once, “Our goal is to take our 20 million users, who are currently using us twice a month, and bump that up to four times a month. That doubles our market share,” At the time Lanzone made the comment, Ask was sitting with about 2.5% marketshare. If you look at the table below, Ask has just about hit their goal.


Percentage of U.S. Searches Among Leading Search Engine Providers

















Note: Data is based on four week rolling periods (ending 9/29/07, 9/01/07; 9/30/2006) from the Hitwise sample of 10 million US Internet users.

* – includes executed searches on and MSN Search.

Source: Hitwise

But I don’t think Ask is going to stop there. Within 6 months, you’re going to be reading stories all over the web about how Ask bumped Microsoft out of the #3 spot. It will be David vs Goliath, or in this case, Barry (Diller) vs Bill (Gates). Ask is on a roll, and thanks to Bill Tancer’s revisiting of the numbers, I have regained enough confidence to say, “mark my words”.

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