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July 16, 2007

Microsoft buys search share with Live Search Club

Posted by David Hunter at 8:31 PM ET.

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.

Filed under General Business, Live Search, Marketing, Microsoft, Windows Live

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5 Responses to “Microsoft buys search share with Live Search Club”

  1. Bob Says:

    The argument that kids playing for prizes would do this on MSN and therefore the numbers shouldn’t be trusted is interesting. What do they think adults are doing when $100M’s of adsense dollars are up for grabs? Or do they subscribe to GOOG’s “clickfraud is minor” assurances?

  2. Hitwise: Microsoft US search share resumes sagging -- Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Web rating service Hitwise has released their August US Web search rankings and the net is that the temporary boost that Microsoft got in June from its Club Live promotion has dissipated and Microsoft was down from a %11.86 share in August 2006 to %7.98 in August 2007 with Google picking up the share. That looks like a one third loss to me, but all the usual Web rating caveats apply.   Filed under Windows Live, Windows Live Search, Microsoft   [Permalink] [TrackBack] [...]

  3. Live Search tries incentivized shopping ads with Live Search cashback | Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] 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".’ [...]

  4. Gaming Live Search cashback | Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Just like their Live Search Club, Microsoft’s Live Search cashback incentive program has drawn some "entrepreneurs" – eBayer slaps $714 price tag on $630 in cash: That’s right, $630 in cash can be yours for $714. But if you access the page through a Live Search ad link that returns 35 per cent of the purchase price, you can make up the difference. And then some. So you make a profit, and so does the seller. At the expense of Microsoft and eBay. [...]

  5. Microsoft gives away iPods to Live Search users | Microsoft News Tracker Says:

    [...] Microsoft ought to try that in the USA too? No wacky Live Search Club games, no Live Search cashback from retailers, just random prizes of good quality for searchers. Hit the [...]

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