Dark clouds are gathering over Ask.com.
For as long as Ask.com has run ads among its search queries, it has been partnered with Google’s AdWords system, however, the deal between the two search companies is soon coming to an end. The big surprise up to this point, if you are in Ask.com’s camp, is that the deal has not yet been renewed. Many point to the fact that there is an obvious disparity in value added when one looks at the relationship between Ask.com and Google. After all, Google commands the largest market share of searchers in the world and estimates put Ask.com in fourth place behind Yahoo! and MSN with a paltry 3% of the US market and little international presence.
The major obstacle to overcome when a Big Guy and a Little Guy attempt to strike a deal is that the Big Guy wields all the power, leverage and resources and the Little Guy owns only the task of convincing the Big Guy that he still needs help from the Little Guy. In this case, there isn’t a whole lot that Ask.com brings to the table that Google doesn’t already own, operate and do better than Ask.com.
It’s true that Ask.com is a king among Little Guys, after all, here we find ourselves talking about them while Lycos, Excite, Metacrawler and Altavista (to name a few) gather cobwebs and fade into obscurity. However, the bottom line is that Ask.com is still a Little Guy and like the aforementioned Internet afterthoughts, they have struggled to achieve in the shadow of Google’s meteoric ascension. If you’re in Google’s camp, you’ve certainly taken notice.
Remember that “What is the algorithm?” advertising campaign? Well, it turns out that the majority of Americans fall into one of three categories regarding that campaign:
1) They don’t, in fact, remember it but thanks for asking.
2) They never figured out what the heck the campaign was talking about.
3) They didn’t know what the word “algorithm” meant and assumed that one of those consarned emo bands that the local news warned us about was playing at the local concert hall.
Ask.com has launched a new ad campaign and hopes to burgle a few more percentage points of the market share away from the Big Three in the process. However, as they sink dollars into advertising, it must be noted that all of this effort is simply a means to the end of appeasing Google and sealing another deal. After all, search engines are businesses and Ask.com is in the business of selling AdWords clicks. There is an inherent inefficiency behind the idea of trying to steal market share from Google just to turn around and feed Google clicks from your traffic stream, and Google knows this. Ask.com provides a steady, albeit somewhat minuscule, stream of traffic for Google AdWords, however, in the absence of Ask.com, what’s to say that Ask.com users wouldn’t become Google users by default?
Google won’t have to risk much to find out.
Without Google, Ask.com may be sunk. If the stormy seas of business claim Ask.com and its 3% market share, it might be wiser for Google to pass by the wreckage with casual indifference than to send out the lifeboats to help.
[Ed. note: the picture above was poached from LindaAnderson.com, which sells the shirts here. Normally, I wouldn't snag a picture from another site, but I thought it was perfect for this entry and thought a plug might makes us squaresies.]