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Microsoft Increases Search Use with Reward Programs

July 27, 2007

Microsoft recently saw a 36% increase in search query volume, due largely from their new initiative Live Search Club, a program launched in late May that’s designed to engage and reward the users of Live Search. That surge in the search market has sparked criticism and other concerns from experts.

First, paying for search engine traffic isn’t a new concept for Microsoft. In late 2005, Microsoft has run several promotions along these lines to draw in search engine querys. In 2006, held out the promise of $1 million in prizes to lure searchers. More recently, Microsoft in January started Click4theCause, a search engine that makes donations to a refugee organization based on users’ Live Search activity. In another, it offered a few large corporate customers discounts on Microsoft products based on employees’ use of Live Search. While some critics may find Microsoft’s ethics questionable, search query volume is search query volume. It doesn’t matter the method the search engine uses to draw in their visitors.

Next critics pointed out that Microsoft’s numbers could be artificially inflated by bots. “The reason their search engine is being hit so frequently is that people are running automated ‘bot’ programs to play the Live Search games for them,” said Live Search Club user Jack Krause in an e-mail. “Microsoft is essentially being DDoSed by thousands of people hundreds of times per minute, but they are mistaking this rise in traffic for people actually using Live Search.”

However, Microsoft is defending the numbers. Window Live’s search business group, Brad Goldberg told Danny Sullivan in an interview that he believes the traffic comes from real people. Even if you take out the search query volume generated by the Live Search Club, Microsoft still experienced an increase in search use. According to Stephen DiMarco, Compete’s CMO, without Live Search Club, Microsoft Live’s U.S. search query volume rose from 8.4% to 9.1%, rather than 13.2%.

With the success of Microsoft’s Live Search Club, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other reward programs coming down the pike. Imagine…a future where the search engines pay the users for performing search engine queries. Interesting concept, isn’t it?