Microsoft still paying people to search

Microsoft seems a little desperate these days, and who can blame them, they have major competitors like Apple and Google giving them sleepless nights. But the act of desperation route won't work, paying people to use your service, as it would show weakness to the public. Customers should not be corralled into using your product, one should provide the incentive, that the product works for the customers benefit and will help them.

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Microsoft's latest effort to get people to use its search service is something called SearchPerks, which gives people points for using the search engine that can later be redeemed for prizes.

Users who agree to download a small program to track their usage get one "ticket" per day for every Live Search query, up to 25 per day. The program runs through April, at which point users can "cash in" the tickets that they get and trade them in for prizes or donate them to a charity.

It's the latest in a series of financial incentive-related projects from Redmond, joining such efforts as Live Search Club, Search and Give, and Live Search Cashback, a program Microsoft introduced in May.

The latest project doesn't just require one to use Microsoft's search engine, however. At least for now, it also requires Microsoft's browser (Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher) as well as a Windows PC. Microsoft said those latter restrictions are not necessarily permanent.

"At this time, SearchPerks is a limited promotion, though we remain open to expending availability of the promotion to different browsers and operating systems based on consumer interest," Microsoft said.

There's also the broader question of what it says about Live Search overall that Microsoft has to keep coming up with gimmicks to get people to try it. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft has continued to struggle to make inroads on Google in overall share, promotions notwithstanding. According to figures recently released by ComScore, Google increased its share of the U.S. search market in August--it's at 63 percent--while Yahoo and Microsoft both slipped a bit, to 19.6 percent and 8.3 percent respectively.

In an interview, Live Search Senior Director Frederick Savoye said that the new business models, as Microsoft likes to refer to these programs, are just one part of a three-prong strategy that includes continued improvements in core search as well as in vertical search, or "simplifying key tasks" in Microsoft parlance.

Microsoft has seen mixed results with its incentive programs. Live Search Club, for example, gave Microsoft an initial boost, but its gains appear to be directly tied to its level of incentives. With Live Search Cashback, Microsoft said it has seen some advertisers boost their Live Search spend. eBay, in particular, is spending 50 percent more on Live Search thanks to Cashback, which Microsoft says offers significantly higher conversion rates than traditional search.

On the broader goal of boosting Microsoft's share of the commercial search business, Savoye said, Cashback has yet to make a meaningful shift in share. "We haven't seen it move significantly yet," Savoye said.

PR Director Whitney Burk said that programs such as SearchPerks are still needed to introduce people to Microsoft's search product.

"We know we have some challenges with the brand and perception," Burk said. "Simple awareness is still a challenge for us."

People can sign up for SearchPerks through the end of the year, or until Microsoft reaches its target of 250,000 participants. Rewards can be earned through April, though Microsoft may decide to extend or expand the program.

In pilot testing, Microsoft said it saw those in the program perform three times the number of searches they had been doing. Savoye noted that in the airline industry, for example, loyalty programs have become a standard part of doing business.

"Over the long-term these programs have changed people's behavior," he said.