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.