Microsoft Dangles Prizes to Build Search Traffic

But High Hurdles, Lack of Awareness Could Doom Latest Effort

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Microsoft launched another program to try to lure more traffic to its search engine, but if it's not promoted more heavily than past attempts, don't expect much success. The program, dubbed SearchPerks, is a sort of frequent-searching program that rewards people for their loyalty by giving them tickets, or points, good toward ringtones, airline miles and Xbox video consoles.
To use the new program, searchers must download a Perk Counter toolbar, which tracks search behavior, such as the number of searches and the types of searches.
To use the new program, searchers must download a Perk Counter toolbar, which tracks search behavior, such as the number of searches and the types of searches.

Danny Sullivan, who writes a monthly column on search advertising for Ad Age Digital, has an in-depth look at the program and points out it's not the first time Microsoft has tried such a tactic.

Searching for a winner
Previous incentive-based programs include Live Search Club, Search and Give, and Live Search Cashback. While SearchPerks seems to be an easier program to participate in than the 4-month-old Live Search Cashback program, which promised discounts to people who bought the products they searched for on Live.com, its promotional value is useless if people don't know it exists. Few search marketers have reported seeing marketing support behind Cashback, even though Microsoft said the program was promoted in ads running both on and off its online ad network.

And maybe that's why buyers seemed reluctant to get too excited about the move.

"We don't foresee this would have a positive impact on our search investment," Seth Greenberg, director of online advertising and internet media at Intuit, said in an e-mail. He pointed out that to qualify for the high-end Xbox prize, one would have to sign up today and perform at least 25 searches a day on MSN for the next 200 days. "We would be surprised if this promotion [drives] more searchers to use MSN."

By the numbers
To use the new program, searchers must download a Perk Counter toolbar in Internet Explorer that tracks search behavior, such as the number of searches, the types of searches (news or images, for example) and on which engines were they completed.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company is "still super-committed to Cashback and will be increasing marketing investment around it during the holiday season." She also said that early tests have shown the incentives do have an impact.

"Query volume went up by about three times," she said. "People do like incentives, and it's something that will lead them to change their behavior."

Matt Naeger, exec VP-operations at search-marketing firm Impaqt, called it a "decently laid-out loyalty program," but said it comes back to whether he gets the answer he's looking for on Live Search. "If I don't, I'm not going to come back," he said. "The prize values aren't high enough."
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