Ask’s portion of the search market is a mere 4.3% (src. Hitwise) so it is understandable that optimizing for Ask is a low priority in the eyes of many webmasters. That said, despite the company’s rather infamous advertising campaigns Ask has some incredible and unique features that I believe will slowly but surely steal search share from its more popular brethren. Consequently, it seems appropriate to provide some tips on how to optimize for Ask without sacrificing rankings on the other search engines. To that end the following instructions are supplementary to the recommendations provided in my “How to Optimize for Yahoo” article.
Ask differs from the other search engines because it has fully rolled-out universal search. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term universal search is the integration of results from a variety of sources (i.e. images, video, local information, news, blogs, etc.) into a single results page. Although Google has implemented universal search to some extent Ask is the first search engine to leap head-first into these complex waters and they have done a great job of it. Since universal search is slowly going to be rolled-out across Google, MSN and Yahoo, Ask is a great place to prepare for the competitive world of universal search. The areas I will cover are images, blogs and feeds, local search and mobile.
ASK IMAGE OPTIMIZATION
Just how do you get an image to show up within Ask.com’s universal search results? The key is to remove any doubt of the image’s relevance to the keyword you are trying to achieve rankings for.
- Alt tags need to be created and must clearly represent the topic of the picture while utilizing the target keyword.
- The content nearby the image should be relevant to the picture and for best results should include the keyword used to describe the picture in the Alt tag.
- The filename of the picture should utilize the keyword.
ASK’S LOCAL SEARCH: ASKCITY
AskCity is Ask’s local portal where various maps and locally themed content (such as event news, theatre tickets, etc.) can be readily found. AskCity was launched in December 2006 as a far superior upgrade over Ask Local and it remains a solid leader in the growing and highly competitive local search marketplace. Fortunately having a presence at AskCity only requires that your business is added to their database if it is not already there.
How to Submit Your Business to AskCity
Submit your business information to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Ask City Feedback – Business”. Ensure the following information is added to the email:
- Business name and complete address
- Phone number
- The category your business best fits
- The website URL
- A contact person’s email address
According to Ask the turnaround time is no more than 28 days.
Tip! You might notice that your business profile (once it is online) has a rating system attached to it; shown as a five star system. If you wish to influence your rating then I suggest sending your happy customers to CitySearch, Yelp.com, and Insiderpages where these results are drawn from. Once they are there have them find your listing and provide a positive review of your business.
MAXIMIZING VISIBILITY IN ASK BLOGS & FEEDS
Ask is the proud owner of Bloglines which is one of the foremost news aggregation tools on the web and happens to be the database behind Ask Blogs and Feeds. To ensure that your blogs and feeds are included in this system I suggest creating an account at Bloglines and be sure to include your feed within the profile.
In order to have any chance of influencing your position within Ask Blogs and Feeds you need to be aware of a couple things. First, the order of results within Ask’s Blogs and Feeds is determined by a combination of Ask’s ExpertRank algorithm (their intensive search engine algorithm) and Blogline’s vast 12 million plus blog database. Ask uses this combination to create the first order of results which is dictated by relevance; not by date which is the most common first viewing at Ask’s competitors. Consequently, it is important that you pay close attention to the relevance of the keyword density in your title, body and links within each post you write on your blog. By keeping your ideal keyword ranking in mind while writing your posts you will have a better chance of obtaining a ranking based on relevance.
Secondly, aside from ordering results by relevance and date (noted as “most recent”), Ask also offers a sorting by popularity. I can only postulate how this works but it makes good sense that a popularity ranking is derived from a mingling of Ask’s monitoring of the stickiness of certain articles (how long users stayed at an article before returning) and how many times a feed and/or a post is accessed within the multitude of user accounts at Bloglines. Considering these factors it stands to reason that creating a sticky blog post is the clearest and most obvious first requirement. The second requirement would be to get active in the Bloglines community and try to spread the word about your quality blog(s) throughout your community. The more people that add your blog feed to their Bloglines profile and interact with it, the better chance you have of achieving a top spot when results are ordered by popularity.
ABOUT ASK MOBILE
Ask Mobile utilizes ExpertRank and appears to be based on Ask’s standard website database. This may seem odd at first. After all, how can Ask provide mobile users with full size websites? The trick lies in their use of Skweezer technology that squeezes normally unwieldy websites into more digestible one column sites for mobile users. It may seem that there is nothing that can be done then to influence mobile rankings at Ask. Not true, the answer lies within the fact that Ask Mobile is focused on providing local results to cell users while they are on the go. With that in mind it makes sense that you improve your website’s odds of being found by ensuring it has a comprehensive listing in AskCity.
Tip! If locally based results are extremely attractive to you then I also suggest adding your physical address information within the footer of every page so that Ask and other locally focused search engines have a better chance of associating your website with a region.
SITEMAPS ARE CRITICAL
Ask’s spider is the least active of the big 4 search by far. When reviewing client spider reports I see Ask visiting websites 50% less or more than MSN, Yahoo and Google. In fact on many websites that have not yet added a sitemap or have less than ideal site structures Ask often does not even index pages deep within their website(s). As a result, submitting a sitemap to Ask is critical if you want your deep content to be properly indexed.
- First create a sitemap. On StepForth’s recommended SEO tools page we noted our favourite tool currently: Vigos Google Sitemap Generator. Download this free utility and have it spider your website. Once it is complete set whatever custom data you want (info is provided within the program) and then generate the sitemap.xml file. Place this file within the root of your website and move to step 2.
- To submit your sitemap to Ask you have two options: add a link to the sitemap into your Robots.txt file or simply inject your sitemap.xml address into the following URL and then visit it:
http://submissions.ask.com/ping?sitemap=http%3A//www.the URL of your sitemap here.xml
Of the two options I strongly recommend going the route of adding the sitemap auto discovery link to your robots.txt file because this is now an agreed method of submitting a sitemap amongst the major search engines. Just place the following code on its own line within your robots.txt file:
SITEMAP: http://www.the URL of your sitemap here.xml
USING ASK AS A RESEARCH TOOL
Ask has a helpful resource included in its universal search layout called “narrow your search”. Try typing in your keyphrase in Ask and then take a look at the narrow your search section of the page. There you will see popular searches that are relevant to your keyphrase. Record this information when conducting keyword research because it is a valuable glimpse into what Ask’s ExpertRank algorithm considers closely relevant and it may also show what users are actually searching for.
There are a few personality traits that you should be aware of when working with Ask that are quite unique:
- Ask does not currently support the “nofollow” tag which could mean that any link leaving your website is considered a vote of confidence for the destination site.
- Ask utilizes a site/content preview window for each listing it presents; represented by a binocular icon. Since users may use this tool to get a glimpse of your site before visiting it is more important than ever to ensure the content above the fold (that appears first without scrolling) is enticing to users and relevant to their search.
I am solidly impressed by the technology at Ask and its successful foray into the realms of universal search. In fact, my research for this article has moved Ask from a bystander in my set of daily search tools to the forefront. I highly recommend utilizing Ask for your search needs and to keep an eye out for future technology additions to this solid search engine. In my opinion Ask is cutting edge enough that we can expect many search engines will be copying their successful implementations in the future.
Now… if only Ask could get the positive attention it deserves. If I were them I would start by creating a stronger connection with webmasters to interact with them and build awareness. That would be far more effective than the ad campaigns they are currently flooding the airwaves with.
Are you an Ask fan? If so, what do you think they need to do to improve their visibility? Post your thoughts by commenting on this article and perhaps Jim Lanzone and his crew will get a helpful tip or two.