Asking About Ask.com

One question that a few of my clients ask from time to time is, “Why does it take so long for Ask.com to find new content on my site?”

My answer: “Our monitoring of Ask search results suggests a slow down in Ask’s web crawling.”

Allow me to illustrate in pictures.

As you may already be aware, Google offers a “Cached” site version, which shows you what Google saw the last time its web crawler visited your site.

Occasionally, Ask also offers a cached version, but in many cases you’re likely to find a binoculars icon instead next to an Ask search result. According to Ask, the binoculars offer a “‘sneak preview’ of a web page when you mouse over a Binoculars icon next to a search result”.

Here are a couple “sneak previews” I discovered this morning:

Yahoo: (After all, 2005 was a year to remember)

MSN: (Is there a King Kong sequel already?)

Oneupweb:

This Oneupweb site design was put to rest 2-3 years ago. This is common; I have come across old designs for a wide range of sites while looking through the Ask binoculars.

Chicago Tribune:

Ok, ok this one was tampered with a little. But you get my point.

Ask’s Binoculars FAQ page offers a defense:

Binoculars Site Preview images are screen captures of the browser navigating a page, and the screen captures are taken periodically. Sites that change often may change from when we last took the screen capture for that specific site, which may temporarily cause summary text in Binoculars to differ from the body of the search result. As we are constantly updating the Binoculars screen capture, we will eventually re-visit the site and re-capture the updated image.

This provides a ho-hum explanation for sites that do change content frequently, such as Yahoo and MSN. The problem is that I frequently see outdated Ask.com “sneak previews” for sites that don’t change their overall design all that often.

In my opinion these outdated views reflect poorly on Ask’s standing as a useful search tool. And coupled with Ask’s growing inability to find and index new site content at the same pace as other big name search engines, I’m suddenly assuming this is all a contributing factor in Ask’s continuing downward slide in search engine rankings.

In the past, I’ve given Ask kudos for quality search results, which were originally a product of Ask’s Teoma search technology.

But lately, I’m beginning to wonder if The Algorithm is all it’s cracked up to be.