Microsoft's Cash-Back Search Program Isn't on the Money

Danny Sullivan on Search Marketing

By Published on .

Microsoft still hopes it can win in search through some type of deal with Yahoo -- but it's not putting all its eggs in that basket. Case in point: Live Search Cashback, a program to woo searchers with cold, hard cash.

Will it work? Maybe, but not in the big-time way Microsoft hopes and not in the form I've played with so far.

The program allows searchers to buy products via Live Search, and Microsoft gives rebates on those purchases. What's more, the prices seem to be lower than if you went to the store directly. What's not to love?

Danny Sullivan
Photo: Jason Meyer
Danny Sullivan has been covering the search-marketing industry for more than a decade and is editor in chief of
For one thing, the product you want might not be one of Microsoft's "10 million products available." And few things are less satisfying that getting zero results back for a search. That's a bad thing when you're trying to beat a player that largely pleases searchers, Google.

Of course, plenty of products will be available. But to buy a particular product, you have to know the brand and model you want. Cashback does nothing to help the consumer in "research" mode. Products are not listed according to expert reviews, nor are there ways to narrow them down to specific features. As a cheap-deals search engine, it could be a success. But people might just keep going to Google to figure out what exactly they want deals on.

Ironically, Live Search has a nice tool called Live Search Products designed to help those in research mode. But Cashback isn't integrated with it -- more awkwardness for searchers.

Still, doesn't Microsoft win in search if it attracts proven online buyers? Even if it has fewer queries, people who convert are worth more to advertisers, right?

Maybe. But that assumes all paid-search ads relate to items that can be purchased. Paid search is used for other things, including, yes, brand building. It also assumes, perhaps mistakenly, that the earlier "research" cycle might not as strongly influence where a final purchase is made.

Kudos to Microsoft for taking the incentive approach beyond the games and prizes it has tried in the past and using real cash as a way to open people's eyes to the fact that there is a good alternative to Google. But it just feels like there's a better way.

Wake me when the frequent-searcher program rolls out. Give me points each time I come to Live Search that I can easily redeem for prizes or cash. Reward my ongoing loyalty and, well, maybe I'll become loyal.
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