- July 26, 2012

How Search is Helping Quora Break Through to the Mass Market

Every day we have questions that need answers, and almost always we turn to the web. The questions we ask and the answers we require can be pretty straight forward: we need to find an address, or a website that has the right pair of jeans for us, or a YouTube video we heard about from a friend. The utility of search easily directs us where we need to go with the click of our mouse.

But what about our more complex questions that require us to use more than a few simple terms for navigation? It gets a bit more complicated when our questions expand beyond basic queries and take on topics that require subjective human answers. Questions such as “Why would I choose this university over another?” or “Why do some people love New York city and others hate it?” necessitate more nuanced answers, and the Q&A/Reference industry is evolving to better address them. One of the important startups in this space is Quora, which is fast becoming the trusted Q&A site for the internet cognoscenti.

User Generated Content vs. Premium Content
Like Quora, traditional Q&A/Reference websites have relied significantly on user-generated content (UGC) to drive the website experience. But not all UGC is created equal, with it ranging from amateur to more professionally-produced.

Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers, current leaders in the Reference/Q&A market, feature content comprised mainly of crowd-sourced material that goes through a basic but somewhat unofficial editorial process. By all means there is a huge market for this type of content, but as we have seen with the evolution of the Internet, premium content often drives greater value for the average user and for the publishers themselves. In the online video space, we have seen this trend manifest itself in the recent success of Hulu and YouTube’s push of its Web TV partner channels.

A similar type of evolution may be happening in the Reference/Q&A space as Internet users are demonstrating an ever increasing need for premium content answers. This has created an opening in the market for a site like Quora.

Quora’s Premium Content Helping its Search Relevance
Quora is a bit different from the other major players in the reference space, with its focus on cultivating an environment dominated by topic experts, such as Doctors, Economists, Ph.Ds., and other industry insiders. Through a “credits”-based Q&A ranking system and a well-informed collective intelligence, the answers that are delivered generally have more depth and expert opinion than the straight fact based delivery of information one would find on Wikipedia.

Quora is seeing tremendous growth of late. Media Metrix shows that traffic to the site has increased by nearly 300% over the past year to more than 1.5 million visitors in June. This is an implicit and explicit agreement on the value that the site is driving in the marketplace.

What’s interesting, however, is that Quora’s growth doesn’t appear to be due to the fact it’s quickly becoming a household name – at least outside of Silicon Valley. When reviewing the search term data on the term “Quora”, use of the term is virtually non-existent, suggesting minimal brand recognition among the broader consumer Internet.

So what is behind such rapid consumer uptake? In a word: search.

Currently, search drives upwards of 50% of Quora’s traffic. Similar to other reference websites out there, it is Quora’s ability to answer highly specific questions that searchers are asking that is propelling its ascent -- organic growth in its purest form. Search engines are pulling up Quora content to answer complex questions, and as more searchers click on Quora links, visit and return to the site, and link back to it, these “votes” in favor of Quora as a relevant destination help improve its organic search rankings over time. Using Comscore Search Planner, We can see below how the number of search clicks to Quora (all organic) has dramatically increased over the past year.

So Quora’s fantastic growth isn’t necessarily because it has become a branded destination and that is why people go there to ask questions, it is the fact that their answers are as compelling as they are and the search engines algorithms are determining that this should be on your short list of Q&A destinations. Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers may be big, and are still the dominant players in the reference space, but there is an opportunity for niche sites like Quora, which focus on premium Q&A content, to emerge as well. UGC from the masses may help address the basics, but premium content from experts is addressing our more complex information needs. And given the almost inherent quality and relevance of its content, Quora seems poised to ride the Google wave even higher and potentially find its way into the mass market before long.

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