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  3. SEO : Sometimes You Just Gotta Ask : Sometimes You Just Gotta Ask

Back in March I looked at the new Ask and wondered if it might begin to compete with Google, Yahoo and MSN given all of the improvements mentioned in Barry Diller’s key-note speaker presentation at the Search Engine Conference in New York.

I have to admit that despite my fascination with the’s commercial that invites me to search better and promises to make my ‘ritual of searching the Internet’ a more enlightened one,I haven’t changed my Google-habit that much over the past few months. I am a creature of habit and my Google dependence is right up there with my morning coffee.

However, just yesterday my daughter asked me a question that I couldn’t answer. (Let’s face it, parents don’t always have the answers). The question she posed was the age-old child’s conundrum, “Why is the sky blue?”

Well, I wasn’t sure exactly what to say since science was never my strong suit. So I suggested we pose the question on the Internet to see what we could discover together.

Going to Google by default led us to‘s answer as the first result followed by the University of California’s math department’s explanation.

The third result on Google was for Sky Blue (the movie).

Google Answers was, of course, the first line offering to have their researchers answer our question in return for payment. That;s definitely out of the question since researching has always been my strong suit.

Deciding to see how the other search engines coped with answering my daughter’s fairly straightforward question, I hopped on over to Ask. Surprisingly enough, Ask did a great job answering her question right on the search results page. The smart answer shortcut topped the page, giving us a full explanation without having to click on anything at all. The smart answer also gave us the option of another explanation as well as an experimental demonstration.

But what I really liked about Ask’s results was that the related search inspired my daughter to learn more. She saw the expanded results and went on to also discover why grass is green, why the ocean is blue and why clouds are white.

Just for the sake of comparison, I posed the same question on Yahoo and MSN.

What jumped out at me immediately on Yahoo’s search results page was the sponsored ad on the right asking if I was looking for “why is the sky blue” items with a link to eBay. To Google’s credit, at least they didn’t serve me ridiculous ads on their search results page.

Yahoo also offered a link to a why is the sky blue science fair project related search as well as a link to learn about why the sky is blue on Yahooligans.

MSN didn’t attempt an answer at all. I thought they might have drawn from the encyclopedia results they touted at one time, but there was no attempt to answer the question directly on the results page. They also served up a few sponsored results, including two to eBay. The seventh result on the page was for Online Casino Help which, in MSN’s defense, is strangely located at

All in all, my daughter learned that

The sun’s rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere, where the light is scattered by nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air. The blue wavelength of this light is affected more than the red and green wavelengths, causing the surrounding air to appear blue.

She also learned that grass appears green because all of the colors of the rainbow are absorbed into the leaves of the grass except green and that clouds are white because the water droplets in the clouds are large enough to scatter the seven colors which combine to produce white

The other questions were not as neatly answered by Ask on their search results page, but if we’d not searched Ask, we’d have never even thought of the related questions; at least not that day anyway.

I learned that I just might have been right to think that Ask is ready to join the other players on the search playing field. I predicted that Ask might easily take over the second position, following Google’s huge market share. If Ask continues to concentrate on search, produce talked-about commercials and provide reliable search results, they might just give Google a run for the money. I’m certainly convinced that Ask did a better job of answering my daughter’s question. And there are a lot of daughters out there.

Lisa Melvin is a Search Marketing Specialist at, an SEO Agency in Maryland, and has been helping clients maximize their search engine visibility since 1998.

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