Today the Wall Street Journal broke incredibly sad news… indeed I think it is one of the saddest moments in my SEO career. is letting go of 40 employees and conceptually restructuring itself by moving away from mainstream search and focusing on question-related searches for their supposed primary audience “middle-American, predominantly female consumers.”

Now this may just seem like yet another change of direction at Ask (they are fans of change) but the fact that Ask maven Gary Price was let go made it clear that Ask is no longer interested in competing with the likes of Google or Microhoo (a popular nod to the impending doom that is Microsoft buying Yahoo).

So what does this mean to you and me? Well first, me 😉 I am feeling mighty upset. I was so upset that I went and took down the painted Ask logo we have in the StepForth office proudly espousing Ask as a favorite search engine… a sad day indeed (see picture).

I along with many of my industry peers had high hopes for Ask. Coincidentally, just last week I took the Director of Public Relations at Ask, Patrick Crisp, aside at SMX West and told him how interested I was in working with Ask to help its profile in anyway possible. I was confident in their platform and told him what I felt was needed to make Ask a far better contender in the search market; a larger database, more frequent indexing, and a face in the industry with a presence similar to Matt Cutts.

So enough about my pain, what will this mean for you? Less choice! Just consider this for a second… when Microsoft buys Yahoo there will only be 2 search engines controlling the majority of the marketplace. Startlingly, I don’t even think I know of a single fledgling search engine that has a chance of filling any new void should one appear. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully expect something will popup to take advantage of the vacuum that Ask is likely to leave; after all I don’t expect Ask’s freshly embraced target market will allow it to expand much past it’s 4% search share.

One possible contender in the future of search that comes to mind is currently vapor as far as we all know (because it is not even in public Beta yet) but it certainly has brains behind it – that is Cuill (pronounced “Cool”). According to one of the keynotes at SMX West by Louis Monier (Vice President of Products at Cuill, founder of Alta Vista, and past Google employee), Cuill is attempting to change the way we search to provide a far more robust and comprehensive search result. I should qualify that Mr. Monier was careful never to even mention Cuill in his speech but considering his current affiliation it seems obvious that Cuill is meant to provide a new innovative search medium. The speech was a long one with many interesting facets but what stood out was Mr. Monier’s heartfelt expression of the inherent inadequacy of 10 listings per search result page; he was right, that is simply not effective anymore with the growth of the Internet what it is.

Prospective contenders aside, Ask’s new management has made a decision to give up the fight for mainstream search and I along with many of my colleagues are disheartened; we really had hope for this brilliant underdog. I even wrote an article on how to optimize for which I suppose is now bereft of purpose.

Special thanks to Search Engine Land who brought this to my attention and has more info on this debacle.

Written by Ross Dunn, CEO, StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
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