Blog Post

How Microsoft Clubs to Search Gains

Kevin Johnson, President of Microsoft’s Platforms & Services Division in his keynote at Microsoft’s financial analyst meeting boasted about Microsoft’s search gains and how they were going to pummel competition, including Yahoo. “We weren’t doing a great job on things like content to search, search to content. And so we are on a mission to do a much better job of driving deeper engagement,” he said.

“The combination of improvements that we are making in the search experience combined with the customer loyalty programs that we launched in the last quarter, we believe, has led to our up tick in share in Q4,” he went on to add. The stats seem to back-up his boast.

According to Hitwise, Microsoft’s share of US searches shot up from 8.46% to 9.85%. That’s a nice little jump. The big question is if these gains are legitimate or this a case akin to Barry Bonds’ pending claim to the home run record, where a promotional offer may have juiced up the search share. The answer is the latter. [digg=]

We checked with Hitwise, and they explained that June gains include “searches automatically generated from a promotion on,” up to June 9, 2007. After that they stopped counting the data.

Microsoft launched Live Search Club (, a promotional website that rewards consumers for completing puzzles and games who used search. You win points and exchange them for other stuff.

Some folks ran ‘bots’ to play the Live Search games for them which helps explain the increases in searches for and MSN Search overall. According to Hitwise, promotion was one of Microsoft’s top upstream websites.


I spent sometime on and realized that Hitwise was being kind. I ended up playing Chicktionary, a word game, which is “powered by Live Search.” Every time you put together a word, the bottom half of the screen produced a page of search results related to that word. I didn’t ask for them – they just showed up. It wasn’t bots that were throwing up those pages. Instead, it was Microsoft showing them to me. When you hit hint, you get some search results that are supposed to be clues.


This is also the case in some of their other games.

Johnson, in his speech said, “We’ve just got to continue to enhance on the experience and through a set of creative things, drive opportunity for searchers to do more searches in a deeper way with Microsoft.” Perhaps that’s what he meant – show enough searches that might result in more searches.

I am no fan of Google’s domination of search business, but is this really the best way for Microsoft to gain search market share?

17 Responses to “How Microsoft Clubs to Search Gains”

  1. Om, some link drops, but they lead to some fuller explanation.

    If you want to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, they did spin that they see this as a way to expose people to the service as a means of getting them to do regular searches in the future:

    “Our hope is that the same users that are using the club today will come back to use [Live Search] it in the future.”

    Also, while Microsoft has taken slams, it’s worth noting that Google’s Bourne Ultimatum promotion going on — surprise — gets people to do searches for fun as well. This has more about that:

  2. Murali

    Om, Live really sucks when it comes to search. Two days back while woking with MS-Excel, i searched for a function in Live search and got all 100% irrelevant results in their first page. Yahoo follows the same. But Google gave all relevant results to MS-Excel.
    Though i’m not a big shot techie to evaluate the Search Engines, this is what a layman will do thinking he will get better results about microsoft related products from Live instead of Yahoo or Google.
    Though how much MS boast saying they are becoming good and increase in their share, web user may not move to Live or Yahoo. Google still owns the big pie and will.

  3. i’m sure microsoft is working very hard to improve search ( both the search experience as well as monetization ).

    from my limited testing, they still have a ways to go. on the search experience side, they need to improve relevency as well as comprehensiveness.

    given time, i believe they will catch up.

  4. Pete P

    Last month referrals to my web sites from msn and live increased to 35%!

    Amazing since Google was only 45%. I do believe at last Microsoft is eroding Google’s dominance. I for one am very pleased by this.

  5. No. What is happening in my opinion is Microsoft is throwing the public some filler the subside the appitite while the make a move to purchase Red Hat. You ask what does Red Hat have to do with search engines? This a piece I published today:

    “Unlike the advancements in OS, Windows, Browser technologies Flock, Mozilla and the new IE, Linux getting left behind, way behind. Linux programmers have long demanded Microsoft to give up its technologies so it could compete. They sustained a minor antitrust victory but continued to fall behind.

    The opportunity Linux users are searching for is a functional, better resource allocating and visual open source operating system. IF Microsoft were to join the open source market, I strongly contend technology would see a second revolution. I stated in a post of mine the other day, “Microsoft is the ultimate brand, second only to the US Government.” Much like the US Military does with Air Craft, Microsoft could offer grants for the development of numerous open source projects and financially impact think tanks.

    This would be a very bold move and the result would be a stunning gem”.

    All this leads to the largest and best funded open source team in the world. The development of a visual, user freindly and highly functional engine would soon follow.

    Jerry R. Reynolds
    Alimoe The General

  6. To me it doesn’t really seem like a game is the best way to win customers. Microsoft could try giving away free email with 2GB+ storage, or free software for that matter…

  7. “The big question is if these gains are legitimate or this a case akin to Barry Bonds’ pending claim to the home run record, where a promotional offer may have juiced up the search share. “

    Wow, that’s pretty harsh. Were you in the same room with him at the time, or are you relying on spurned professional media reporters for that hit?

  8. I’ve played the games a few times – entertaining, but the loading of the search results gets a little old. While I don’t think its a bad idea – Microsoft needs to continue to focus on the underlying technology more than the marketing of Live Search. I’m particularly a fan of social search – but nobody listens to me. :)

  9. I think it’s great to have competition in search and I welcome it. For me, the question is relevancy. As a user, I want an answer to my query and don’t worry about market share. I’m more concerned about getting the info related to my request.

    Although I have seen improvements, it’s not enough. While the game tie-in is probably helping with exposure, I don’t think it will be enough to “pummel” anyone. I do think it’s creative.

    Granted the way that I have used their search is probably in reverse than most users. I like to see if Microsoft can find my articles. From my web logs, I can see what people have entered for their search phrase. I like to take those top queries and play across all the engines.

    The results are interesting with Microsoft. On one hand they return some good relevant results. But then it stops and irrelevant results appear and my site is seldom found. It makes me think they have crawling issues with various sites or people have figured out how to game their system. Since they don’t have any webmaster tools, it’s hard for me to rule out any technical issues.

    I can also see from my web logs they visit my site much less frequently than Google or Yahoo!. There are certain pages they’ve never crawled although they are listed in the sitemap file. This makes me wonder if they are pulling as much data as Google and Yahoo! Ask/Teoma has similar issues.

    Putting on an advertiser’s hat, this relevancy has stopped me from testing PPC campaigns with them for clients. They have some great tools within AdCenter and the pricing is very favorable. Cheap clicks aside, I’m not sure I could get the ROI.

    Apart from the chickennary users, who finds the search results are meaningful?