V3.co.uk sat down with Ask Jeeves European managing director Cesar Mascaraque to discuss how the firm plans to differentiate itself, and break the monopoly of rivals Google and Microsoft in the search market.
V3.co.uk: As head of Ask Jeeves' European operations, can
you tell us what part of the business is actually based here?
Cesar Mascaraque: There are two key areas to our search product. The back end, which involves all the indexing and retrieving and ranking of results, is primarily done in our New Jersey offices. There is also a team looking at the quality of the results, and they reside in the UK because that capability needs to be local to ensure relevancy.
What have you done to make Ask more competitive in a market dominated
by Google and Microsoft?
I joined about a year and a half ago and the first thing we realised was that we had to work on the product. We focused on the speed of the site, on making the results more relevant and on improving the user experience through redesigning the interface. We made a big launch at the end of October with a product as good if not better than any other, and thought the time was right to go to the market and try to attract more customers. With this in mind we decided to bring Jeeves back, as our customers were telling us they wanted him back.
Has this move improved your business?
Yes, the results have been excellent. We've seen an increase in queries of 30 per cent and an increase in users of 85 per cent in a period of over three months. You can promise something with marketing communications, but if your customers don't believe you they will leave. Jeeves resonates with UK customers. People trust him.
How else have you sought to differentiate in the search
We are pioneers of semantic search; in fact the company was founded on the basis that people need semantic search. When we launched around 10 years ago we said you don't need keywords; you need to be able to search in a more comfortable way. So we built the technology that allowed us to answer questions no matter how they are phrased, and we still get more questions asked on our site than our competitors. Users are getting more sophisticated, but there are still less sophisticated users out there; the software engineer in California might only need two keywords to search effectively but that's not the case for everyone. So we feel we're well placed to help our users.
Nevertheless, Google and Microsoft are way ahead in the market. How
do you respond?
We are a search company. It's all we do. We don't take pictures of your house, and we're not distracted by corporate manoeuvres, which means we can be more creative and brave, and invest more time and money into the problems customers are facing. For example, we introduced injection technology which returns results in vertical areas such as blogs, news and TV listings, which adds a freshness to the results, and we're continuing to expand our database of verified question and answer pairings which is already up to 350 million.
Has the Microsoft-Yahoo search tie-up impacted Ask?
Our strategy is not based on our competitors. We are obviously impacted by what our competitors do, but our strategy is focused on our customers. I strongly believe that we'll benefit from this latest news, though, because our sole focus is search. If the other players are distracted it will probably benefit us. I like being number three in the market because, if you compare us to the two others, it makes us better prepared for the future. We have the resources, high profitability and a great team, and we can take risks and be more aggressive.
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