If you can't beat 'em, pay 'em off.
That seems to be the Microsoft Live Search team's motto these days. On October 1, Microsoft rolled out another search-rewards program, designed to get more searchers to try its distant No. 3 search engine, Live Search.
The new Live SearchPerks program, open to U.S. searchers only, requires users to install a small desktop counter to their PCs, which will calculate how many times they use Live Search (but keep them anonymous otherwise, according to Microsoft). Users are awarded "tickets" for each search. Twenty-five tickets gets users a free music download; 500 gets them 1,000 free air miles on predesignated airlines. (Participants also can opt to donate their tickets to selected charities, schools and other causes.)
Microsoft is limiting the program to the first 250,000 users who sign up through December 31. The program is set to end April 15, 2009, after which time prizes will be awarded. If the results merit, Microsoft plans to scale up the program to include more people in more countries, officials said.
More interesting to me than the program logistics is how Microsoft views the idea of paying users to search.
Microsoft is attempting to grow its search share in three ways, said Frederick Savoye, diector of Live Search Product Management: By improving search features (better relevance, infrastructure, etc.); by simplifying tasks in particular verticals (travel, shopping, product reviews); and by "innovating in the business model." In this third category, Microsoft already has launched a few different paid-search program, including the Live Search Club, Live Search CashBack and an even earlier program, known as "Service Credits for Web Search," via which Microsoft signed up businesses to require and/or encourage their employees to use Live Search in exchange for lower software prices.
Savoye told me Microsoft is seeing, on average, a three times increase in the number of Live Searches done in the various consumer-focused paid-search pilots it has launched. That may not seem like much, when you consider Microsoft has less than 10 percent of the search query share. Savoye said that Microsoft sees the programs as ways to build different audiences. "And different programs appeal to different people," he said.
I guess Microsoft has to try whatever means necessary to grow its search share, but these paid programs don't seem to have taken the world by storm. Live Search Club helped Microsoft to grow its market share -- at least until market watchers revised their data to account for it.
What's your take? Do you have any intentions of trying Live SearchPerks?