The True Fiction of Microsoft Live Search

Yesterday, I read a post on Google’s blog about their focus on improving search quality. Today, I read a press release from Microsoft in which it said its Live Search product will be used to give “cash back” to those who use it to find and buy things. Innovation vs. buying your way into the market…in my book, that kinda speaks for itself.

Microsoft’s “Live Search cashback” site…promises to pay back a portion of the purchase price — ranging from about 2 percent to more than 30 percent — to people who use it to find designated products and buy them online from participating retailers…including the online sites of large retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Sears, Home Depot, J&R Electronics, Office Depot and others. [via]

Instead of jumping to conclusions, I decided to make a list of my thoughts on this, many of which the folks at Microsoft are not going to like.

  • We shouldn’t be surprised that Microsoft is using the lure of the cash. When it comes to beating Google in the search game, cash is the one asset it already has.
  • Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is still running the company, despite not being the CEO. He talked about paying people to search almost three years ago.
  • eBay is using Microsoft to generate traffic. That leaves lead-generation players on a slippery slope.
  • TechCrunch notes that this program is based somewhat on Jellyfish, a company that Microsoft bought back in 2007. In other words, this isn’t a new idea, just new spin.
  • Will this work? That remains to be seen. Remember a company called iWON? Well, despite all the cash and prizes it handed out, it failed miserably. Will Microsoft’s size and online presence give it a leg up? Maybe.
  • It really doesn’t address the issue of Microsoft continuous loss of market share in search.
  • Microsoft will need to find a way to overcome resistance to register for the service.
  • Microsoft Live Search Cashback has 200 merchants, compared with the average comparison shopping engines, which each have about 10,000 merchants.
  • Microsoft is pretty serious about what amounts to little more than a gimmick. They recently bought, showing how committed Microsoft is to this effort.
  • What Microsoft is indicating: It will shift to a cost-per-acquisition model, instead of the more generic cost-per-click model, which I think is actually a good thing.
  • What they really need to do is to upsell merchants to other types of online advertising they offer — search, contextual, content and display. Now that could prove to be a very big opportunity

Final thought: Microsoft’s traditional strategy of “We will charge less and crush the competition” really doesn’t cut it anymore. How long do you think merchant partners are going to stick around and waste their resources if they can’t make money? This is not some PC-maker-schmuck they have in a headlock. Take a look at all the other new technologies where Microsoft hasn’t been able to dominate — this is a sad reflection on that trend.