Microsoft Discovers That Bribing People To Use Its Search Engine Didn't Work

from the money-isn't-everything dept

We recently had a discussion about the role of money as an incentive and how it often doesn’t work the way people think it should (i.e., money often provides negative incentive — the opposite of what you would think). I’m actually working on another post about that topic that I’ll hopefully finish later today, but here’s a quick one demonstrating that point in action.

Way back in 2005, Bill Gates suggested that in the end, Microsoft would be able to beat Google because it had a secret weapon: it could bribe users to use Microsoft instead of Google, by offering them a cut of the advertising revenue. It took a few years, but Microsoft finally turned on that “feature” on a limited basis in 2008, offering cashback for people who bought certain products after searching for them via Microsoft’s search engine. Later that year, it expanded the program to regular search. What happened? Not that many people cared enough. Microsoft kept upping the ante, but most people didn’t care. They were happy with their Google searches, and even if Microsoft was paying them to use its search engine, it wasn’t enough. Well, except for people who figured out how to game the system. But that’s not who Microsoft was targeting.

Microsoft has now admitted the program was a failure and is shutting it down. In a blog post about the decision, Microsoft admits that people just weren’t that interested:

In lots of ways, this was a great feature — we had over a thousand merchant partners delivering great offers to customers and seeing great ROI on their campaigns, and we were taking some of the advertising revenue and giving it back to customers. But after a couple of years of trying, we did not see the broad adoption that we had hoped for.

Microsoft admission is quite open and honest, which is actually pretty cool. They don’t sugarcoat it. They thought this was something people would like — as the basic belief that monetary rewards drives activity would suggest — but found that, in practice, it does not work at all.

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Companies: google, microsoft

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Comments on “Microsoft Discovers That Bribing People To Use Its Search Engine Didn't Work”

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32 Comments
Ken says:

Re: Aplpe's new search will do the same thing

Your comment is interesting — BUT your facts are wrong!

1) You won’t pay more for a product — all product pricing has the cost of advertising build in. You pay for advertising wherever you buy.
2) Most of the advertising money from Apple mobile device goes to the app developers — to support them and help create new and better apps.
3) That’s one reason why Apple has in-app ads rather than “search”

byteme says:

They thought this was something people would like….

They didn’t create it because they wanted to make something people would like. They made it because they fear Google will one day make an OS that will compete with Windows. Not to mention other software that will directly compete with Microsoft. They did it for the same reason they have branched out into so many other areas of computing…to try and kill the potential competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think this is true, and even if it is true I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s not like in this specific instance they are demanding the government to intervene. Yes, going into a market and trying to gain market share from competitors by trying to offer a better product for a better price is perfectly legitimate business. Even if your intent is to drive competitors out of business by offering a better product for a better price, I think there is nothing wrong with that. That’s a perfectly legitimate way to conduct business. Now going to the government and demanding a government sanctioned monopoly (ie: Patents), that’s nefarious.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Microsoft admission is quite open and honest”

That’s nice to see, unlike the MSM who won’t ever admit to a mistake and would try and secretly fix their mistakes (and do a poor job of covering it up after commenters have corrected them) and pretend like it got it right the first time. Honesty is important, sometimes mistakes are made. Instead of pretending they never happened, face up to them, people will be a lot more sympathetic towards you if you do.

Now of course there is a difference between being nefarious and making a mistake. But in the case of mistakes I think corporations would find that the public is very understanding if you face up to them and will not trust you if you try and “sugar cote” them or blame someone else or pretend it never happened and hide it somewhere in the back of the newspaper in small print or say it really quick in hopes that no one pays attention or intentionally do anything to make people less aware. MSM, pay attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

“who figured out how to game the system.”

I remember when, was it Bill gates? or some ISP? managed to offer everyone a $50 gift certificate to Best Buy for trying out, was it Dish TV or some Internet service or something? This was a long time ago. The thing is in the contract it said that you can cancel the contract at any time. The intent was clearly to have people subscribe for a year and get a $50 gift certificate for doing so. What people did was they signed up for the contract and immediately canceled and got their gift certificate. I think Bill gates lost millions of dollars before it got discontinued. I knew a bunch of people that did the same thing, it was all over my school that everyone was doing this and got their $50 gift certificate.

jb says:

The biggest problem with Bing Cashback may be that they didn’t publicize it well enough. I saved 35% ($150+) on the just-released myTouch Slide today, simply for clicking thru from Bing to TMobile. Who wouldn’t take advantage of such a discount, if only they knew it existed??

OTHO, most Bing Cashback discounts are in the single digit range. That just may not be worth it for most consumers…

isabel (profile) says:

I think people like what they know and don’t like change generally so it would take more than that to get them to transfer from google.

It’s always thought that the reason people eat shitty food is because it is cheaper, when I think laziness and not wanting to take time to cook is the more important factor, rather than a financial analysis of the options!

Anonymous Coward says:

Bing Cashback shopping is the shiat. Same price and a check. And you dont have to buy it through Bing, you just had to have an account, use a participating merchant and send them the receipt, (if you are afraid of the cookie). I never saw selective returns based on using the service, but I did frequently see the search engine display incorrect prices than what were actually presented by the vendor if you clicked through. But there aint no flaws in the checks they send ๐Ÿ™‚

Mike42 (profile) says:

The simple fact of the matter is...

Bing isn’t a good enough search engine to use. Would you use plastic wrap as a paper towel if someone paid you 25 cents a roll?
if they want people to use their engine, first they need to fix it, or offer some feature that Google doesn’t have. Then they can bribe new users into becoming loyal users.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Subtle messaging

When you pay someone to do something, the underlying message is “doing this sucks so much that we have to pay you to do it.” That may or may not be true, but people think it.

I remember hearing about experiments where blood donors were paid. It actually resulted in a net loss of blood donations, because the money wasn’t worth the lost time for many folks and donors lost the warm fuzzy feeling they got from donating something for free. I might be off on that as I can’t find the study anywhere though — would love to get some confirmation on that.

Ruth (user link) says:

I wonder how it’d have worked if they used some kind of points system instead, or maybe the target market is just too small. There’s something called Swagbucks that I’ve done for a while, and it awards random points for searching. I use it only for non-in-depth stuff because it’s not nearly as good as Google but if I get a few $5 Amazon gift cards a month, I’m more than happy to use it for about half my searches. It also has merchant partners and whatnot.

They seem to be doing ok with a points system that lets you redeem for various things. But then again it’s not a search engine trying to get people to use it, it’s a specially-set-up search engine/merchandising rebate combo.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Keyboards, Search Engines, and the real reason why this failed

The title is actually

QWERTY vs DVORAK and Google vs Bing. Why no one will succeed against google in search.

If you look at the images of the QWERTY and Dvorak keyboards (images in links above) you will see substantial differences. If you went from a qwerty to a dvorak it would frustrate you and just not feel right. With use, the Dvorak takes months to learn.

Google has a certain pattern to its use. You type in a query it corrects your spelling. It doesnt give the correct answer you make a change and requery. You know where to type and where to look for results and how to redefine your query. This is a pattern that we have all become accustomed to.

Bing is laid out differently. Its responses are not what we are accustomed to. The queries often return things that would be place low on the list in google. Like the Dvorak keyboard it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

That is why bings “get paid if you search and buy here” failed. People dont want to change. That is also why google will maintain a market strangle hold for the foreseable future.

Rekrul says:

Re: Keyboards, Search Engines, and the real reason why this failed

Bing is laid out differently. Its responses are not what we are accustomed to. The queries often return things that would be place low on the list in google. Like the Dvorak keyboard it feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

For many things, Bing IS uncomfortable to use. Like the way it crams the page in an image search into a box on the page and makes you click again to get to the actual page.

iamtheky (profile) says:

Maybe they found a model that is more difficult to abuse and potentially more profitable, and are discontinuing their current venture so as to not compete with the new one. Maybe its not necessarily that the program did not work, so much that it is able to be refined in so many areas it warrants a complete relaunch.

The email I got from M$ ends with:

“we are currently working on an exciting new program which you will hear more about from us later this summer. “

Wesha (profile) says:

In fact, it has exactly the opposite effect...

If you ever read Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog“, that’s one of the methods for discouragement: first, reward the behavior [that you consider undesirable], and then gradually stop giving the reward. The subject’s thinking is, “Why the hell should I continue the behavior if I’m no longer getting the reward for it?”

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