Ask.com's Carla Borsoi on the New Search Landscape and more...

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Website Magazine's SEO Corner columnist Dante Monteverde is out at Search Engine Strategies this week meeting and greeting his many fans. Of course, he's had some time to get some work done too. Monteverde interviews Carla Borsoi, Ask.com's VP of Research and Analytics about the role that Ask.com will play in the new search engine landscape, how Ask.com and parent company are innovating, social media, personalization and more.

WM: What role does Ask.com hope to play in the new search engine landscape where a combined Bing-Yahoo and Google dominate the scene?

CB: Ask.com has a very good opportunity to grow. Ask is the 7th largest U.S Internet property and now, one of three global search engines. Thinking about it from a consumer perspective, Bing and Yahoo! are going to look exactly alike, and Ask.com will provide consumers with another choice of search engines. We’ll continue to leverage our strengths to focus on providing an outstanding consumer experience. Also, while Microsoft and Yahoo! are distracted with the integration, we can use this time as an opportunity to continue down our path of product innovations, as well as to pursue new B to B partnerships. Search is still relatively young – it’s very early days, and there is a huge opportunity for Ask to grow now more than ever.

WM: How is Ask.com and parent company IAC innovating to secure mindshare among consumers?

CB: For one thing, we’re furthering our strategy of going deeper in categories that our consumers care about most. For example, at the beginning of the year we announced our sponsorship with NASCAR. We know that NASCAR is one of the largest marketing channels in America, with 75 million fans who are famously loyal to the sponsors who help keep the sport alive. We implemented a product strategy designed to deliver NASCAR fans the best answer, the first time, every time. We will continue to look for areas like this that resonate in the hearts and minds of our consumers. We also know that our users enter queries in the form of a question 3x more than on any other search engine. Consumers like to see questions & answers, which is why we launched our Q&A database using our semantic search technology. Currently, our Q&A database has more than 300 million Q&A pairs. So, we will continue to make inroads with our semantic search technology to be able to provide consumers with the best answers to their questions.

WM: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have actively fostered webmaster and developer communities. In what ways can Web professionals interact with Ask?

CB: Nothing at the moment, but stay tuned – we’ll be rolling some great stuff out this year.

WM: What are Ask.com’s thoughts on integrating social media and traditional algorithm based search – is it something they plan to do? Do you think it will make search better or just add more noise? Is social media, when used as a search device, too easy to game?

CB: Yes we absolutely plan to integrate social media into our algorithmic search results soon, and we will only do so to the extent that it adds value to our results – the same as integrating blog content.

WM: In regards to personalization – do you think there is a point where search can become too personalized - where people become profiled and then feed certain results, thus kept from discovering new ideas, products, services, websites, etc? For example, the word “fencing” can mean a sport involving swords, a man-made barrier, or selling stolen goods. Depending on how you’ve categorized someone you may feed them results based on only one of these meanings. How do you prevent that from happening or decipher when the user wants to expand beyond their profile and get results for a different meaning?

CB: Consumers want search engines to understand the context of their queries so they get the answer they’re looking for quickly, which is why we’ve been so aggressive with our advancement of semantic search technology. Dr. Tomasz Imielinski, Ask.com’s EVP of Technology is speaking on this topic at SES, based on his recently published paper on this topic, called, “If You Ask Nicely, I Will Answer… “ As for “keeping consumers from discovering new ideas, products, etc.” … sounds to me like it’s a way to keep them clicking on links, which makes more money but is not a good consumer experience nor a viable long-term approach as consumers come to expect more from search engines.

WM: What effect has consumers' demand for greater personalization had on Ask? What sort of challenges does this present?

CB: Personalization is important to our consumers and we try to build products that give them the opportunity to personalize their space. We offer Skins, a product that lets users pick their own background for the Ask.com homepage. The product is extremely popular and we’ve found that products like this are extremely helpful in driving frequency and retention among users.

 
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