Bill Gates famously suggested that Microsoft might buy the affections of Internet searchers and that seems to have come true as market research firms Compete and comScore have both reported a substantial jump in Microsoft’s June US search share due to an offering of prizes for searchers via Microsoft’s Live Search Club promotion.
First the numbers:
In a business where most monthly changes are generally only a fraction of a percent, these changes are huge and both firms took care to call out Microsoft’s Live Search Club promotion as a substantial part of the change. The idea of the Club is that members use the Live Search engine to compete with each other to win “tickets” that can be cashed in on fairly substantial prizes like Xboxes, Zunes, Microsoft webcams, and Windows Vista.
There’s nothing the matter with having a contest to draw traffic but there are substantial questions as to the quality of the traffic:
Some of Microsoft’s statistical spike can be attributed to bots, though the exact percentage isn’t clear. Live Search Club users believe that automated searches account for a significant portion of Microsoft’s search share gain.
“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.”
“You can completely max out the number of tickets available within 6-8 hours without even being at your computer,” a Live Search Club user said in an e-mail. “Many, many people were doing this, redeeming the tickets for several copies of Windows Vista, and reselling them on eBay, etc. There isn’t even a limit to how many accounts you can open and how many prizes you can win.”
There’s more by following the link including some online forums where punters swap code, tips, and success stories on gaming Live Search Club. Here’s an example of a tool called LiveMacro that those pesky users have developed which only takes ”a minute of configuration before it happily earns thousands of tickets for you”:
Since most of these tricks seem to work by feeding keystrokes to a browser as opposed to using a standalone program, I don’t know how Compete and comScore could filter them out, but there have been various disclaimers as to whether they do or not, and even recalculations of results with Live Search Club completely excluded which still show a jump for Microsoft, albeit rather smaller.
Humorous aspects aside, the net is that Live Search Club seems to have drawn more users to Windows Live Search temporarily, but it isn’t clear how many are “real” and more importantly, how many will actually stick over time after Microsoft gets tired of paying for prizes and playing whack-a-mole with the folks gaming the system. Meanwhile, with all the publicity, expect another big Microsoft share jump in July.