Ask overhauls search

Ask is banking on greater relevance and speed as it assaults search market again

Ask is overhauling its search engine to improve relevance, as it continues to push for a larger slice of the online search pie.

Ask claims the overhaul will ultimately improve speed by 30%, with early tests showing an immediate 16% improvement.

The company also plans to improve search relevance by adding structured data feeds to its results rather than finding random or unorganised data from around the web.

For instance, if a user searches for "What's on TV tonight?" the results will bring up licensed TV listing results for their area based on IP address.

"We're expanding the depth and breadth of our structured data to bring users serendipitous results," says Ask chief executive Jim Safka.

He says it takes consumers three clicks to find what they are searching for online, with the company intending to reduce that to just one.

Ask may hold just 4% of the global search market, according to IDC figures, but the company is fighting hard to build on that statistic. It has recently launched an aggressive marketing campaign questioning people's continuing use of Google, and now says it hopes to take advantage of its competitors' merger distractions.

"We view this as a 24-month window of opportunity that we can drive a truck through," says Safka. "It's all about growth, this category is growing no matter what the economy is doing."

The majority of Ask's revenue currently comes through a search advertising partnership with Google, which brings up links of relevant advertisers in response to a user's search query.

Yahoo reached a similar agreement with Google in June. That deal has been opposed by some industry watchers on antitrust grounds and has been delayed by the companies to grant investigators time to investigate it.

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