What Ever happened to Ask Jeeves?

(Thoughts from a London SEO Agency)

For SEO Agencies Google’s suite has become a staple for inspecting code, accessing the best plugins and tool bars, it is the engine of choice for most SEOs. This, in no small part has been a result of their divide and conquer regime that has bought technologies, platforms and other assets to expand their product offering and keeping the goals of their search engine very clear. However, the choice of search engine has not always been so clear cut and may not be again.

Thinking back to the Dotcom Boom years of internet, anywhere between 1997 and 2007, a few thoughts that seem rather archaic spring to mind. The likes of Dial up modem tones, the cold robotic voice welcoming you to AOL and of course search engines like Ask Jeeves. These technologies were all commonplace. Unsurprisingly they have been replaced for variety reasons which aren’t too hard to get your head round, namely innovations like Wi-Fi have come a long way since 2000s. However, search engines of this era had every reason to progress with a similar trajectory as their rivals but many of them did not reach the omnipresent heights of Google.

Ask Jeeves Case Study

Whilst working in an SEO Agency it is undoubtedly important to keep up to date on updates and innovations however in order to understand the future of the search engine landscape we can learn from the past as well, so we asked ourselves, where is Jeeves now?

The answer technically is Oakland, California but Jeeves goes by Douglas Leeds these days…

Ask Jeeves launched in beta in 1997 and was an immediate hit, making itself a household name. However the success of the charming butler would last a mere 9 years before he was removed and the site was rebranded as Ask.com. Ask continued to make acquisitions and develop the site until 2010 when it abandoned development into the search industry all together. The reasoning for this decision has been a closely guarded secret with many external outlets citing issues with toolbars, data storage and other issues, but who really killed the butler?

The Heavy Hitters

In 2005 it was leaked that Ask Jeeves were in the process of ending their contract with Google AdWords in order to make their own paid search platform. At the time Google and Yahoo ads platforms were well established and growing more powerful by the day. However, MSN AdCenter & Search had not had so much traction, little did they know that Microsoft’s humble platforms would become Bing Ads & Search and claim a top spot shortly afterwards. In 2005 the first Ask Jeeves adverts began showing but the equity of advertising on the site was soon recognised to be very little as Google had already established its platform over the five year period and taken the majority of business clients with them.

Ask Jeeves Search Engine 2005

Not All Search engines are born equal...

We can conclude that Ask’s lack of urgency and prioritisation of paid ads was a major chink in their armour, however we need to delve a little deeper into why Ask Jeeves didn’t take a top slot as a ‘go-to search engine’. This can be broken down into three major categories:

  • The user experience of fetching results with a butler was brilliant, it gave people with no knowledge of SEO a practical albeit cursory look into how the search engines work. This along with the animated butler were comforting for an audience who were getting acquainted with search engines and in many cases sceptical of the tech giants that were growing up around them. The site later dropped the question fetching side of the business* in favour of the more streamlined model of its competitors, but in doing so they gave away their niche. Regardless of your feelings about the gimmick the company removed their USP and entered a race at walking pace, where their competitors were already running.
  • The monetising of search engines both directly with paid search and indirectly with algorithms, updates and criteria for SEO was adopted far more quickly by the competitors. Unsurprisingly these brands grew far quicker as both companies and consumers sought increase goal completions through their sites and consumers queries were being answered in a far more efficient and targeted manner.
  • Finally, the methodology that rapidly increased the number of users on the largest engines globally was system preloading. The removal of choice from the customer. For example, Microsoft computers often have Bing search inbuilt and Chrome books have, you guessed it – Google! Computers made with default browsers get users onto their engine by simply by being the first or inbuilt browser on their new device. For many this means that they stay with the browser. This is especially true of corporate computers and phones where; in these cases, the device is locked to a browser or needs admin access to download additional applications.

The SEO Landscape

Whilst I, and many like me will have a certain amount of nostalgia associated with for Ask Jeeves. These main points along with the tech and interface issues has secured Ask Jeeves all but guaranteed the site a place in the tech graveyard. In SEO there is often a common trend among many of these sites and applications that will (or already have) fallen by the wayside. Lack of adaptability and willingness to recognise and incorporate change outlined by Search engines, is what will continue to change the landscape moving forward. SEO Agencies can learn from this. We know that our success relies on two major factors on this and/or offering something unique. (For example DuckDuckGo search engine launching as a search engine focusing on protecting user’s privacy) – this is undoubtedly more difficult to do in an saturated market.

Certainly, the most fundamental message of this tale for Search Engine and an SEO Agency alike is that, if you fall too far behind, you get left behind.

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