Google has always been the king of search; so much so that it’s become a household name — and, more than that, a bonafide verb. Sure, there’s always been Yahoo! and MSN/Live Search, with the latter in particular receiving a massive amount of traffic partly because it’s the default search engine for Internet Explorer. However, for years Google has been the tech-head’s search engine of choice.
But recently Ask.com — formerly Ask Jeeves — has been aggressively marketing its search engine on primetime TV here in the UK as the all-singing, all-dancing alternative to boring old uncle G. Here’s a taster of Ask’s “can your search engine do this?” campaign:
Full credit to the Ask.com marketing team: the ads are attention-grabbing, original and, above all, they really do make Google look like the kind of old-fashioned search engine only your mother would use. But is it really? And which is better when you actually want to find relevant information?
While I fully realise I’m by no means the first blogger to try this, I decided to run a small test to compare the two. The search term I used was “Lincoln”, my current place of residence. I also restricted results to sites from the UK. Here’s what Google came up with:
And here’s the same search on Ask.com:
The main difference is that Ask has a three-column layout, whereas Google is limited to two. Moreover, when you’re used to the clean Google search, Ask’s results page can be a little discombobulating at first, but it’s fairly logical once you get used to it.
You have the search bar on the left, with suggestions to narrow your search, and the search field itself has autocomplete suggestions as you type, which is a pretty nifty feature. On the right are samples of images, music and video searches, which in this case were actually pretty useless, but I can imagine situations where you’d want them (for instance, when searching for a band, Ask will bring up weblinks, photos, videos and song clips all on the same page.
Ask also has a nifty ‘binoculars’ feature, which is a preview snapshot of the linked webpage when you hover the mouse over the relevant icon. This is similar to the feed preview feature on Bloglines, or indeed the Snap preview here on WordPress.
One thing I didn’t like about Ask was its ‘sponsored results’ which are directly above and below the main search results, so you have to scroll down a little before you find the links that aren’t paid for. What’s more, it doesn’t mark its sponsored results very clearly; there’s an incredibly pale blue box around them, but it’s tough to spot. In contrast, Google clearly separates most of its sponsored results by placing them in the right-hand column. Sure, you sometimes get sponsored links just above the results on Google too, but it just feels easier to differentiate than on Ask.
I’ve been talking a lot about Ask’s features, but Google has one or two tricks up its sleeve. For example, if you’re logged in it tells you how many times you’ve visited a particular website. It also allows you to ‘note’ or ‘clip’ a particular weblink for future reference, rather like social bookmarking sites, such as del.icio.us. Finally, at the bottom of the results page are further search suggestions.
In terms of actual results, there really isn’t much to separate the two. Both ranked City of Lincoln Council and Lincoln University highly, while the Cathedral came slightly lower down the front page.
Bottom Line: I’ll probably stick with Google for now. Ask has some great features, but the results page feels a little overloaded for my taste.