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The Anti-Search: Answers.com

Kevin M. Ryan
The Anti-Search: Answers.com Kevin M. Ryan

The development of vertical information sites and "search destinations" offers a preview of what we may one day have in terms of search efficiency. Everyone is seeking the ultimate query-to-content experience and references to "one-stop destinations" are becoming as overused as statements that include (insert any word) + "engagement."

Yet a site that launched in early 2005 with the moniker and URL Answers.com is "popping up" all over the web on popular news and information destinations. Surfers are waking up to a place to stop and search for all kinds of information, and the next generation of content is starting to surface.

October, 2006 comScore data ranks Answers.Com as the 73rd most popular American property; roughly five million people drop by every day to help find answers to life's questions. Let's take a closer look at this blossoming bundle of bliss.

What is Answers.com?
The biggest difference between Answers.com and other search sites is that search sites have been commercialized and ranking systems don't aggregate information to answer questions. Indeed the very nature of search rankings and indexing technologies creates a complicated experience for users.

The most popular interests on Answers are electronics, travel, business information and entertainment. Many visitors arrive via search engines, but Answers is not categorized as a search site. Rather, a search destination, if you will. Or, if it's easier for you to digest, Answers.com is a publisher.

"We really don't fit into any existing definitions. We have many categories -- health business, travel -- we are an ad supported horizontal content destination," says Robert Formentin, vice president of advertising sales for Answers.com.

Where is all of this content coming from? Answers is pulling in content from many locations, including top information destinations like McGraw Hill and Hoovers. There are also over 100 branded dictionaries, thesauri and encyclopedias, and every inch of content is licensed and fed into the Answers.com system.

FAQ farm was a recent acquisition for Answers.com, providing the user-generated content component; there are over 200,000 individuals that have registered to administer the data.

Another way to use your "Alt" key
Answers.com is also providing tools for searchers that enrich the content intake experience. One of the most popular tools is called "One Click Answers." The one click functionality allows the user to hold the "Alt" key and point to any text on the page to see more information about that word.

Sites like CBS News and The New York Times both have this Answers.com technology plugged in. Most interesting in this feature (other than that there's nothing for the user to download) is that information is displayed in a pop-up relevant to the context of the word.

For example, the word "Bush" existing on a page in the context of an article about our fearless leader will only bring information about the President. Conversely, if you are reading a story about gardening, the same word will initiate an information box about trees and bushes.

Coming up for Answers is a presence within browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7.

Advertising opportunities
Google Answers went the way of the Dodo because making users pay for information access or answers simply does not work. Instead of making the user pay, an advertising-supported destination is the way to go. There are plenty of opportunities to advertise on Answers.com.

Google AdSense, of course, provides search results information and sponsored links, so you can opt-in for Answers.com information in content search. While surviving on AdSense clicks and Network-based placements might seem like a low maintenance way to subsist, Answers.com has big plans to help monetize top categories like entertainment, business and finance, health and travel.

"The real focuses for 2007 is to continue to expand the content library and seek to expand relationships with advertisers," reports Formentin.

Now try not to screw it up
User feedback for the Answers.com plug in and information access model is positive. The most common reaction to the Answers experience is a love affair with the tools and the ease of accessing information in one easy-to-digest destination.

The audience is Answers.com's to lose at this point. Future challenges will include resisting the temptation to over-monetize the site. Today there are network-based graphic ad placements on the site, AdBrite text listings and Google AdSense text listings.

Like many popular sites today, Answers is moving away from the network environment. Text listings are going to have to be reduced to create a less cluttered appearance. Answers will have a very bright future if advertising and content are clearly separated, and the site could serve as a model for future content search destinations.

Kevin Ryan is the chief executive officer of Kinetic Results. .


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