Eyes Up Your Momma

Dennis Faas's picture

Search site -- formerly Ask Jeeves -- is to ditch 8% of its workforce and re-evaluate its strategy. It seems the site will be revamped from a general search site to one aimed specifically at married women, with an emphasis on lifestyle issues.

New CEO Jim Safka says research found 65% of the site's users are female, compared with 48% across all search engines. The site is particularly popular with women in their late 30s living in the Midwest and Southeast. (Source:

Ask is currently the fifth biggest search engine, but has a mere 4.5% market share, far behind Google's 58.5%.

On its launch in 1996 Ask Jeeves became popular by allowing users to make queries in everyday language rather than have to type specific search terms. This didn't always work well, and the results were sometimes comically off-the-mark. In those days, search engines mainly looked for pages on which the relevant phrase appeared most frequently, regardless of how useful the pages were.

For the past few years, Ask has dropped the Jeeves gimmick and tried to become a straight competitor to Google. This didn't work, mainly because Google's technology was far more effective (particularly its use of PageRank, which takes account of how highly regarded a page is by looking at how many other sites link to it).

It had been rumoured that Barry Diller, the CEO of Ask's parent company InterActiveCorp, might give up the fight altogether and let Google provide the site's search results. Google already runs text-ads on (Source:

Instead Diller has opted to let Safka use his knowledge of the middle-aged female market -- honed through his time as head of dating site -- to attempt the new Ask strategy. Safka said, "If we can do a better job of understanding who these customers are and answering their questions, we will grow."

There's no guarantee that the strategy will work as it's at-best uncertain that married women really do need a specific search engine. But, niche marketing may be the only way to go now that Ask has lost any hope of winning a flat-out fight with the leading search sites.

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