IAC Dances Fine Line With AskCity/CitySearch

IAC’s Ask.com rolled out AskCity this week in a bid to use IAC’s content to differentiate itself from Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. The site, which succeeds AskLocal, proves to be an excellent local research tool and effectively integrates listings, reviews and other content from IAC sites such as CitySearch and evite, as well as non-IAC sites (It is a little weird, however, that AskCity is not the URL, but rather a sub-site within Ask).

Remarking on the launch, Ask CEO Jim Lanzone, in an interview with Om Malik, noted that “local is very important in search. It’s a top five category for us” represents 10 percent of all Ask searches. With the addition of IAC’s proprietary content, Ask can really present a human element that competitors like MSN and Yahoo aren’t doing. “Our research showed that they rely too much on maps and gimmicks like fly-overs, have limited content, require too many steps to transact, and have a lack of coherence between various the local products they’ve all created,” he said.

Still, AskCity’s launch raises a series of logical questions. Won’t the launch of AskCity cause significant cannibalization from CitySearch? Isn’t it time to rollup CitySearch? While one is a “search engine” and the other a “destination,” isn’t that becoming a fine line, circa late 2006?

The answer is “no” on all of the above, per Scott Morrow, CitySearch’s Exec VP of Product and Marketing. Morrow noted that the origins of both sites “are just different. CitySearch is a media and publishing creation. It is a leading directory and content company in local. And it leverages the SEO value of the content.”

Unlike Ask, which ultimately remains a search engine, CitySearch is all about “exploration and decision support,” said Morrow. “We do have a search functionality, but it is not core to what we do,” he said. Just this year, in fact, CitySearch outsourced its search functionality to FAST Search and Technology.

The proof that IAC has long-term plans for CitySearch would be the launch of a major marketing plan. It has been years since CitySearch spent significant money on marketing. Morrow says it is coming – although don’t expect to see any SuperBowl ads. “We are gearing up for a massive consumer launch with a focused, targeted marketing campaign,” he said.

In the meantime, he says that AskCity should be seen as symbiotic with CitySearch. “It provides more exposure and leads to advertisers we are signing up,” said Morrow.

I like what Morrow has to say. And really, it wouldn’t make any sense for CitySearch to throw in the towel at this point, given Ask’s experimental status, and CitySearch’s extensive relationships with Ask competitors, including a local “powered by” relationship with MSN, a lesser, “non-powering” tie with Yahoo, and informal ties with Google.

CitySearch also has a developing local sales operation under the direction of Neil Salvage. It also features IYP, a user-generated content platform, and an editorial staff.

For sure, all this could be re-orged. And certainly, one imagines that IAC head Barry Diller has decided that Ask’s potential is many, many times larger than CitySearch’s. But for now, IAC is apparently intent on synergistically developing the two sites.

3 thoughts on “IAC Dances Fine Line With AskCity/CitySearch

  1. I was surprised to see business ratings and reviews by sources in addition to CitySearch.

    From a user standpoint, there’s one thing I really like. I did a search for events at a place called “First Avenue” here in Minneapolis, which doesn’t carry your mainstream music acts.

    I was able to look at their events, separate them by date and genre, and could purchase tickets online. It was not through IAC’s Ticketmaster, even though they are a TM venue. This was all without leaving the AskCity site.

  2. And Ask PR weighs in too…

    “Search engines sit horizontally across the rest of the Web – over commerce, content, community or communication—they are not content, but get you there. On the other hand, Citysearch is the leading vertical content site for local information. Combined together or used separately, both serve their purpose.

    Citysearch already gets a huge amount of traffic from search engines. Even a site like Wikipedia gets 70% of its traffic from search engines each month. Should you go to directly to Wikipedia or should you go to a search engine? It depends where you are in the process of investigating a topic. Your usage of a general search engine, like a Google or Ask, probably differs from your usage of a deep vertical, like a Wikipedia or a Citysearch, yet they are all part of the same ecosystem. And they blend well together in the middle of the spectrum.”

    Additionally, 10% of Ask’s queries are ALREADY local–Ask is just trying to do a better job of managing those. To do that, Ask wants to give you as much information as they can in a reasonable amount of space, and if you want more, you can go to a content site, such as Citysearch. Or if you want to write a user review, you would go to Citysearch.

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