Back in 2005, Bill Gates suggested that Microsoft might provide financial rewards to attract search users, but the devil is, as always, in the details. You can’t pay for raw numbers of searches, because the scammers would be all over it and the Live Search Club games of last summer had a similar problem. Now according to the Seattle PI’s Todd Bishop, Microsoft is set to try again with the announcement of an incentivized shopping promotion called Live Search cashback which only pays if you buy products from selected retailers. The somewhat oldtimey slogan is ‘Microsoft Live Search cashback is “The Search That Pays You Back”.’
The basic idea is that you “search for cashback deals at Live Search cashback” and if you buy, Microsoft will put an incentive payment of some percentage of the purchase price into your “cashback account” which you can withdraw in cash. What keeps it from being merely an incentive shopping site is that if you perform a regular search at Live Search, available cashback deals will be flagged with a little gold coin/dollar sign icon.
Microsoft has apparently signed up a number of major retailers and is presumably making the incentive payment out of a sales commission paid by them. The incentivized shopping model is hardly new, but what is new is that it is being associated with a legitimate search engine. While I hope participation in the program doesn’t affect the rankings of search results, the suspicion always is that by mixing search results and what are effectively paid ads, the search engine is stacking the deck. More may be known when the formal announcement is made later today.
Update: The speculation is that this is based on the technology Microsoft received last year when they acquired the Jellyfish comparison shopping site which had promised to “SHARE at least half of every $1 we earn when you shop and buy products using Jellyfish.com.” Also per the FAQ, you have to be a US resident to participate.
Update: The formal announcement doesn’t add much to the above. Some stats:
The complete Live Search cashback product portfolio includes more than 10 million product offers from more than 700 merchants, including more than 13 of the top 40 U.S. retailers.
Microsoft also announced Live Search Farecast for finding travel deals. It uses the technology acquired with Farecast in April.