Monday, 26 May 2008

Live Search to offer Cashback ... but what about the search?

Microsoft recently announced a cashback incentive for certain products that a user would click through and purchase via a Live Search.

The specifics:

Live Search Cashback Icon

A while back, Microsoft made a significant upgrade to the Live Search algorithms that greatly improved the search results.

We blogged about that: Windows Live Search vs Google. The improvements were significant as we were not able to find much of anything before the changes at that time.

This new approach to search advertising and the ability to track actual transactions as a result of a click through is awesome! If it flies, it puts pressure on Google to restructure things towards a similar system. Companies that will use this form of advertising will be able to measure with great accuracy the effectiveness of their advertising dollars on the search engine.

But, there is one huge caveat in amongst all of this: Microsoft's Live Search still does not produce consistent comparable search results to the other search engines. Driving traffic to the search engine for users who are specifically looking to purchase a product is one thing ... having that traffic wash over into Live Search's general search capabilities, and thus search share increases, is another.

Case and point:

Search Result for: MPECS Vista OEM

The post being searched for is on the OEM branding of Windows Vista. Unfortunately, that post did not show up in our results from the Live Search engine. This example is but one of many where we are searching for specific information and the Live Search results fall short.

By default, the first search engine we have been turning to when there is a need to troubleshoot a problem or search for specific information on products and services is Live Search.

Sometimes, the Live Search results are pretty similar such as in this case where we were troubleshooting an ActiveSync error on a Mobile 5 device:

ActiveSync Error 0x80070008 Search Results

We find that the above similar results are rare though. More often than not we find ourselves having to open a new browser tab or window to initiate a specific search on Google, Yahoo, or other engines.

Don't get us wrong. Live Search has made some huge steps in the right direction.

However, other than driving users to search for products that may or may not have the associated cashbacks, most users will probably stick with their usual search engines for their regular searches. This will especially be true when they see that their searches turn up better all around results in the other engines.

So, to the Live Search Team, you have your work cut out for you: Fine tune your algorithms to turn up more accurate results for searches and search engine users may actually stick around!

This is a huge challenge indeed! ;)

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists

*All Mac on SBS posts are posted on our in-house iMac via the Safari Web browser.

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