The shock has worn off. To be honest, it didn’t last as long as I’d hoped it would. The truth is, Ask’s death doesn’t make much of a material difference to Metamend or any other SEO firm for that matter. We might have been very good friends but this is a business environment after all.
We never really did a lot of business on Ask. Our clients haven’t considered their placement on Ask critical and, for the most part, neither have we. Google, Yahoo, and even Microsoft have always driven far larger numbers of website visitors, making Ask a fourth-place second thought sort of address. For most of us, Ask never really mattered, at least not in a financial sense.
Nevertheless, most people in the search marketing community literally loved Ask.com/. We loved former CEO Jim Lanzone. We loved evangelist Gary Price. We loved hanging out with Patrick Crisp and the hilarious characters from the PR department.
Most of all, we loved what Ask had become and we watched as other search engines innovated on Ask’s ideas. Ask inspired all of us. That’s why it was included in the “Big4″, even though its market-share was consistently lower than AOL’s. The emotional outpouring of Ask obits is indicitive of how much the SEO community loved what was “the little engine that should”. Here are seven reasons we’ll miss Ask:
1/ The Underdog Rule
Ask has been the scrappy underdog since the days of former CEO Steve Berkowitz. Everyone loves the underdog and Ask was a good one. When Jim Lanzone took over after Berkowitz was hired by Microsoft, Ask began one of the most remarkable transformations in search engine history. The underdog was starting to earn our respect along with our sympathies.
2/ Ask was like Rocket Richard
Maurice “Rocket” Richard was thought to be too small to play professional hockey in the NHL. At 5′10″, Richard’s small frame caused a lot of doubt in his earliest coaches. As it turned out, the Rocket became the most prolific goal scorer and play maker of his era.
Ask was sort of the same way. Always too small to be considered important, Ask.com came up with some of the most interesting features in its search results. Its background engine, Teoma, has long been considered one of the best, consistently producing extremely relevant results. While it never won the eight Stanley Cups Maurice Richard led the Montreal Canadiens to, it was a very small player that punched far above its perceived weight. Sadly, Richard never made much money during his career either.
3/ Appreciation breeds appreciation
One of the great things about working with a smaller company is the ability to be fun and spontaneous. Ask was like that. One minute things would be dull, the next, Ask would be throwing a party. Reaching out and having fun was a big part of their marketing plan with the search marketing community and, to some degree or another, it worked.
Two years ago, Ask.com invited twelve bloggers to a social dinner. At that dinner, one of the bloggers put forth the question, “What would happen if each of us promoted Ask regularly for a month?” Being the narcissists us bloggers are, we all left vowing to write great stuff about Ask for a month, figuring great things would happen. They didn’t. Aside from general interest, the readers didn’t seem to care.
It’s not that we were bought off with a good supper. We weren’t. We had simply all agreed that Ask was better than the public perceived; to the delight and surprise of the kind folks who invited us to dine together. That sort of collective agreement among writers would never happen with other search engines or products but for some reason, we agreed to it because we loved Ask.
4/ Good Things Happen around Good People
Ask had a lot of genuinely good people working there, many of whom actively did favours for friends in the search marketing industry. Two stories stand out in my mind. The first involves several tales of former CEO Jim Lanzone calling SEO bloggers to talk through ideas or items in their posts. To a person, each deeply appreciated the attention and got a great feeling for the man. The second was when Ask helped SERoundtable editor Barry Schwartz propose to his (now) wife. It was a touching moment for all of us who observed and a wonderful act of kindness for Ask to perform.
5/ The Thoughtful Neighbor
Ask was like the helpful neighbor. Ask’s sole function was to improve and thus be of better service to it’s users. Sure it tried to monetize its results from time to time but it frequently helped its rival come up with innovative ideas.
Ask tried to make its applications to be as useful as possible. It often built simple but important touches into its products. For instance, its mapping feature was built to be helpful to pedestrians well as drivers.
6/ We Could Relate
As long as Ask aspired for greatness it pushed itself to develop great things. For the past two years, Ask was visibly fighting to be better and I think it inspired SEOs who watched it try. When it scored victories we cheered and when those victories failed to improve their market share, we worried for them. While Jeeves might only have been a discarded brand-character, the heart Ask showed obviously touched the souls of several SEOs.
7/ Ask was Funny
Everyone likes funny people. Ask might have had a quirky sense of humour but they were very, very funny. The Algorithm line of billboard advertising is the obvious case in point. As obscure as the campaign was, it was often hilarious. They even did a video riff on Al Gore Ithm. Seriously, that’s too weird not to be funny. What’s not to love there?
I could probably find a bunch more reasons we’re going to miss Ask.com but that would literally be like beating a dead horse. It’s over.
Oh… One last note of advice to IAC on this file before writing little to nothing about Ask again… Don’t bring Jeeves back from vacation or carbonetic freezing or where ever he’s supposed to be. The thought of Jeeves returning as a professional skirt-chaser is too much for me to handle. Lisa Barone was right. You should just kill it all now and sell the good stuff to someone who’ll use it.