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Search With Microsoft, Win a Prize!

Microsoft is rolling out yet another way to entice users over to is failing search engine -- prizes! This comes after the Redmond-based giant tried paying customers with its Cashback initiative searchperks.jpg to draw users to its Microsoft Live Search at the beginning of the summer, which turned out to be a bust. This time around, the company is set to offer up a series of rewards to frequent users of their search engine.

The company has dubbed the program SearchPerks, and it works like this: Users download a Perk toolbar for IE, which tracks search engine behavior. Users gain points, or "tickets" for every search through Microsoft. Those points can eventually be redeemed in for prizes ranging from music downloads to an Xbox 360 controllers.

It seems better designed than Cashback, but still has some limitations. As Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand puts it:

SearchPerks is much easier, except right off the mark, it irritated me by requiring Internet Explorer (why, Microsoft, why must you do this?). Try it in Firefox, and you're told to go away. You also have to have a Windows Live ID to use the service.

OK, one reason it may be IE specific is that you have to install a "Perk Counter" into your browser. That sounds scary -- what exactly is this counter tracking? Not searches or sites you go to, only things like banner ads you click on, says Microsoft.

Microsoft has every reason to try any possible way to build up its search market share, particularly now. As the economy tightens, advertising spend will shift increasingly towards direct sales. Search advertising is the overwhelming giant there, and even small percentage gains in search users can translate into potential windfalls for Microsoft.

But programs like this and its Cashback initiative can be counterproductive. Ignore the fact they eek of desperation -- can you imagine Google offering up prizes? -- and focus on the fact that these loyalty programs aren't going to be enough to hold users. And Microsoft Live, when it comes to answering questions, still has some serious limitation. Compare the Google search for "advertising agency" to the Microsoft Live search for the same term. Microsoft returns less relevant and spammier links. Give away all the Xboxes you want, users are still going to be using the search engine that helps them find what they want, quickly and simply.

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