is getting crafty in an attempt to boost its online advertising business, launching its SearchPerks! promotion to reward people using its own search products in combination with Internet Explorer.
SearchPerks! is also a swipe at
, which generates the bulk of its revenue from online advertising, and
, a recent Microsoft acquisition target.
The promotion is similar to airline miles, offering "tickets" or points for users searching via different Microsoft products, such as Live.com, Windows Live Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger. Users, who can accrue up to 25 tickets a day, can redeem these for awards such as music downloads, golf balls and cookbooks.
Derided as bribery by some Microsoft watchers, SearchPerks! is not the first time that the software giant has offered search-based inducements to users, and the move follows the launch of the company's Live Search Cashback program earlier this year.
Microsoft is currently wrestling with Google and Yahoo! for a share of the dwindling online advertising market, prompting the Windows maker to resort to somewhat desperate measures, according to at least one analyst.
"We view this as yet another example of disappointing efforts to organically ramp-up the online advertising business at Microsoft," writes Sandeep Aggarwal, senior internet research analyst at Collins Stewart, in a research report. "After the launch of the Live Search Cashback program in May '08, SearchPerks! is the second attempt by Microsoft to try to disrupt the economics of the search market by enticing end-users rather than gaining end-users and advertisers by product innovations."
The analyst adds that Microsoft lacks a compelling option to boost its search business other than making a possible deal with Yahoo!
"Our preliminary reaction is that SearchPerks! will likely result into a substandard outcome," he writes. "In our view, attempts like this one can in fact hurt Microsoft's reputation in the eyes of end-users and advertisers."
Long term, both Google and Yahoo! can rest easy, according to Aggarwal. "SearchPerks! is going to have no material impact," he writes. "First the Live Search Cashback program and now SearchPerks! may help Microsoft to create some noise in the industry, but we do not view these initiatives as part of a winning strategy for search."