Creating Loyal Searchers or Just A Bunch of Yahoopla?

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In recent news, Yahoo! has invited a test group to participate in a new search incentive program. The basic premise of the program is to offer incentives to people who use Yahoo! Search as their primary search engine, over the course of a month. Now we are not talking about huge, Ed McMahon-style cash prizes or anything, but perks nonetheless. Elinor Mills of C|Net has reported that Yahoo!’s perks may include:

– Advertisment-Free Yahoo! Mail
– Unlimited Yahoo! Mail storage
– Free music downloads
– Donations to the charity of your choice
– Netflix discounts
– Frequent flyer miles
– and more

This idea is not unique to Yahoo!; Bill Gates has talked about sharing advertising revenues with MSN Search users in one way or another as well. According to one report, Gates says that users are the very reason that the engines are able to make money from advertising, so why not share the wealth?

It seems fairly straight-forward that user incentive programs are designed to create search engine loyalty and ultimately increase the engine’s share of the search market. Maybe Yahoo! isn’t settling for the # 2 spot after all? While offering incentives is the latest strategy for attracting the masses, it is not the first. You may remember the battle of the indices that Yahoo! and Google participated in not that long ago. It seemed that every week one was touting a larger index than the other in an attempt to claim that their datacenters were more comprehensive.

The questions that come to my mind are these: What exactly are the determining factors in selecting a search engine? What is ultimately going to decide which engines remain as leaders in their field and which fade to the background? Will the world of search be reduced to who is offering the best incentives, paying the largest commissions, and/or offering the largest index? Or will relevant results play the trump card? I guess only time will tell, but I think the future of the internet will be better off if users focus on results and not gimmicky promotions. After all, isn’t the reason we search in the first place to find what we are looking for?

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