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.

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

Microsoft launched Live Search Club (http://club.live.com), a promotional website that rewards consumers for completing puzzles and games who used Live.com 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 Live.com and MSN Search overall. According to Hitwise, club.live.com promotion was one of Microsoft’s top upstream websites.

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I spent sometime on club.live.com 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.

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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?


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