Ask Jeeves Expands Pharma Focus

By Colin C. Haley

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Making inroads in a promising sector, natural language search specialist Ask Jeeves this morning said it has closed a deal with Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

A spokeswoman said the contract is Jeeves' second with a drug maker, but noted that the field is attractive because so many people seek health information over the Web. Jeeves' previous pact, inked with Roche a year ago, is not as extensive.

"We needed search technology to deliver a strong user experience that would positively reflect the Novartis corporate brand and the individual brands of all our products," said Sam Rini, a Novartis marketing executive.

Novartis tested several other self-service offerings before choosing Jeeves. Previously, the Swiss company used an in-house system, but needed to switch after users reported having trouble finding the information they needed.

Last year, Novartis, tallied 8 million visitors to its 22 Web sites last year. It will use the JeevesOne product to respond to visitors' general queries about the company as well as more specific questions about products and diseases. Novartis can also refer customers to live operators for phone or e-mail help for more complicated questions.

Another factor in the contract award is the ability for Jeeves' software to customize information for return visitors and tie that information with other marketing efforts.

Financial terms of the deal, which flows through Jeeves Solutions, the Emeryville, Calif., firm's enterprise arm, were not disclosed.

Skip Battle, president of Jeeves Solutions, said the Novartis deal is a good example of the company's efforts to "integratecutting edge technology with marketing strategies to increase customer satisfaction and brand awareness."

Jeeves, which competes with Overture and others, is optimistic that revenues will increase this year, based in part on paid search fees, from Google and others.

In other search engine news, Fast Search & Transfer said its technology is powering CareerBuilder.com, an online recruitment and resume service. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.