AOL Eyes a Bigger Share of Search

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2005-01-20 Print this article Print

Trying to reach beyond its subscriber base, AOL revamps its search service. But experts question whether it's enough to compete with Google, Yahoo and MSN.

In refreshing its search features and partnerships, America Online Inc. is trying to grab a greater share of Web search traffic and expand its sources of search-based ad revenue. But whether it can snag a bigger search presence in a market dominated by Google Inc, Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.s MSN division remains in doubt, search experts said. On Thursday, the Dulles, Va., company unveiled a new version of AOL Search with a focus on the general Web audience and not just subscribers to the AOL Internet service. AOL overall is working to turn into a more general portal this year, said Gerry Campbell, vice president and general manager of AOL Search.
"There is a major strategic shift taking place within AOL, and this release is part of the bigger picture," Campbell said. "This release is all about taking AOLs Web search experience and making it available on the [general] Web."
New features include clustering of search results into topics and a "SmartBox" tool that suggests refined search queries as a search is entered. AOL also has expanded "Snapshots," which are boxes appearing atop search results that highlight related information drawn from AOLs network of sites, such as movie times or weather. The expanded search features became available in AOLs subscriber software Thursday and will be extended to the search site early next week, Campbell said. AOL is aiming to give users "better answers faster" with the search revamp, he said. While AOL tries to target to a wider audience, it could face an uphill battle in positioning AOL Search as a top-tier search engine, said Melissa Burgess, director of business development at search-engine marketing company IMPAQT. "AOL, in trying to understand that search is super-important to overall traffic and ad revenue, is trying to make up for the advancements made in some of the other search engines and to entice new people to come to their search engine," Burgess said. "Its going to be hard … I dont think any of the other engines will lose market share percentages because AOL is beefing up its search features." Next Page: A look at market-share numbers.

Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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