Microsoft's Cashback program, which offers people discounts on products purchased through the company's Live search engine, is attracting visitors, research firm Hitwise said Friday.
"We see an interesting trend where the share of visits to the Cashback section of MSN Live is increasing," said research director Heather Dougherty on the company's blog. "Eleven weeks ago, MSN Cashback represented 3.75 percent of the traffic to Live.com and grew to 6.29 percent last week. This rise in Cashback's traffic underscores the interest in the program, which is likely to be getting a boost from shoppers looking to save money and stretch their budgets given the current economic climate."
While Cashback accounts for an increasing fraction of Microsoft searches, though, the company's overall search share has stayed level at about 5.4 percent in July, August, and September, Hitwise said. Over that period, Yahoo dropped from 18.7 percent to 18.1 percent, while Google increased from 70.8 percent to 71.2 percent.
The Cashback site on its own ranked 12th in search engine traffic for the week ending September 27, Dougherty said.
Paying people to search, in effect, has its limits, though. One analyst said Microsoft's newer SearchPerks incentive, which gives points for searching that can be redeemed for prizes, smacks of desperation and could hurt the company's reputation. (Also, it requires Internet Explorer to sign up.)
Microsoft, though, appears more worried about getting brand recognition in search in the first place than about having that brand hurt. "We know we have some challenges with the brand and perception. Simple awareness is still a challenge for us," said spokeswoman Whitney Burk earlier. And paying people to search can work: "Over the long-term these programs have changed people's behavior."