Ask.com has bought a stable of Internet reference sites that includes Dictionary.com in its latest effort to distinguish itself from online search leader Google Inc. and other much larger rivals.
Besides Dictionary.com, Ask is picking up Thesaurus.com and Reference.com in its acquisition of Lexico Publishing Group LLC. Terms of the deal, set to be announced Thursday, aren't being disclosed.
With the addition of the widely used reference tools, Ask hopes to make more money showing ads to people looking for answers to basic questions. "We want to 'super serve' those people," said Jim Safka, who runs Ask for its corporate parent, IAC/InterActiveCorp.
More than 30 percent of the search requests entered on Ask are seeking reference material, Safka said.
The sharper focus on reference tools doesn't mean Ask is abandoning its role as a "general, multipurpose search engine," Safka said. "This (acquisition) isn't all we are going to do. It's the first tangible piece of the puzzle."
Without providing specifics, Safka indicated Oakland-based Ask also will take measures to highlight more information about entertainment and health issues.
When Ask trimmed its work force by about 8 percent in March as part of a shake-up, the company's officials indicated the search engine had decided to would return to its roots as answering straightforward questions. Ask officials also said the search engine would start catering to its core audience of women.
Ask plans to plant some of its search engine results on the reference sites in an effort to expose its technology to an even wider audience.