Microsoft On Search Gains & Live Search Club

Earlier this week, Microsoft got some positive news about its search share growing thanks to a Live Search Club program it started in May. But then came the criticisms. Was the traffic just off people using robots to win prizes? Nope, says Microsoft. I had a short talk with the new general manager of Window Live’s search business group, Brad Goldberg, earlier today. The traffic comes from real people, and he thinks Microsoft will retain those people over time.

Compete: Microsoft Gaining Searches; Live Search Club Giveaway Working? is my earlier article that looks at how Microsoft saw a big jump in its search traffic, according to metrics firm Compete. It jumped to a 13.2 percent share of traffic in the US for June 2007, after a year of being stuck around the 10 percent level. Nearly all of the rise was due to traffic from the Live Search Club game site, where people can win things such as Xboxes for completing puzzles that involve searches.

After the stats were reported, Bots Helped To Boost Microsoft Live Search Gains from Information Week covered questions that the rise in search traffic might not be human driven but instead due to automatic tools that some people use to win prizes in the program:

Live Search Club users believe that automated searches account for a significant portion of Microsoft’s search share gain.

Compete was quoted in the article saying that no, the automated queries are not counted in its share calculations. Goldberg said the same to me. In addition, he said that when new figures come out next week from comScore, Microsoft expect those to also reflect a rise in its traffic that’s due to actual human use at the club:

“When comScore comes out, we expect them to show a significant uptick in our share,” he said. “In previous months, [gains] have been a tenth of a point or two tenths of a point,” he explained. “The ballpark figure we expect is closer to two points.”

As I wrote in my original article, any rises or falls in figures are always easier to believe when you see them reflected by more than one ratings service. So we’ll all be watching for those figures, as well as those from NetRatings and Hitwise.

Goldberg said that one of the challenges the company faces is that while 30 percent of web surfers use Live Search at some point in a given month, according to Microsoft estimates, they don’t use it that much. The majority of searches still happen elsewhere. Live Search Club was designed to help pull searchers in, and it has succeeded past expectations.

“We’ve been pretty surprised by the success of the club, and it shows that customers are pretty hungry for new experiences in search.”

Of course, it’s easy to poke that using search to win puzzles isn’t the same type of quality traffic as people who use search to accomplish real life tasks. But Goldberg said the aim is to grow awareness that Microsoft expects will translate into those important real life searches in future months.

“There’s a spike that happens in the introduction of any new program,” he said. “Our hope is that the same users that are using the club today will come back to use [Live Search] it in the future.”

comScore is also planning a revamp of is search measurement product, qSearch 2.0, in the coming months. Goldberg said Microsoft hopes the new metrics will reflect more favorably on Microsoft, though the service might take an initial drop as the new metrics are used, since they won’t be comparable to past ones. But then going forward, Microsoft hopes there will be rises.

I’ll be following up on the new changes myself when these get closer. As my previous article on Compete’s figures discussed about Yahoo (and also see here), many of the metrics we get today are fairly rough estimates that can get skewed for various reasons. As the search wars get hotter, we need deeper drill-downs on exactly how they are assembled. I’ll be working to provide some of this.

Finally, Goldberg said Microsoft will be looking to do even more unusual things like Live Search Club to raise awareness, in addition future improvements to its core search relevance.

“We’re going to be creative and take risks as we try to grow our share in search,” he said.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Microsoft: Marketing | Stats: Popularity

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    Danny, the InfoWeek article is a fun read: “The forum posts contain links to bot code that can be used for automating Live Search Club games.”

    That’s an interesting article about people using bots to send traffic to Microsoft and then getting prizes as a result.

    It reminded me about this previous situation:
    http://publications.mediapost.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=39885

    That’s an interesting 2006 article about people using bots to send traffic to Microsoft and then getting prizes as a result. :)

  • joe

    @Matt:
    If you really trust Compete so as to enjoy the good press it gives google, then you also have to believe that they really do have mechanisms to avoid counting the traffic generated by bots. I am not saying there are no bots involved, am darn sure there would be.

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Matt, both Compete and Microsoft says that automated queries run by the bots are getting filtered out. I mean, they’ve both been asked directly and point blank about it. Are you saying they aren’t?

    I don’t know enough technically on how the bots work to determine if they’d pollute Compete’s results. Compete takes in ISP data (which I assume would make it hard to filter out the bots), as well as toolbar data (here I think bots wouldn’t have an impact) plus a traffic panel (again, bots wouldn’t be an impact, it seems).

    For me, I’m waiting to see what the other three rating services say before I make a firm conclusion, as I said in my original article.

    Also, in my originally story, you’d asked if Compete was measuring overall share or search share. It’s search share, so things like AJAX shouldn’t have an impact, as I noted in the piece.

    You’d also wanted the raw numbers of searches rather than the estimates. I agree, that’s useful if you want to point out that even though Google’s share of searches might be reported as down, the overall number there might still be higher than the previous month.

    NetRatings: Google Spike, Live.com Rise In February 2007 explains this issue to some depth, back when people looked at Yahoo’s drop. I said that when you think about it in terms of raw searches, they don’t look as bad.

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    @joe, I’ve written skeptically on Compete’s metrics before: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/review-compete/

    @danny, speaking as someone who has seen a lot of creative ways for bots to send traffic to a search engine, I know that it’s a hard problem to tackle well. Do I believe that Compete or Live make earnest efforts to find bots? Sure. But the Comscore numbers estimate that MSFT went from 757M queries to 1.1B queries, an increase of 343M queries. That’s nearly a 50% increase in queries in 30 days, which seems pretty artificial. Do I think that Compete/Live successfully detected all bot traffic with 100% accuracy? Color me skeptical. :)

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