Search Agencies Wary of Plans to Reward Searchers

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Search marketing firms say Yahoo and MSN's plans to reward Internet users who make the engines their primary search choice are not the best way to drive loyalty.

Agencies spoke out after Yahoo said in a survey to some Yahoo Mail members that it's "considering launching a program to reward people who make Yahoo their primary search engine."

Yesterday, MSN debuted an official program, MSN Search and Win, to reward members for searching. MSN search users can win prizes such as Canon PowerShot digital cameras and gift certificates from Target and American Express as well as donations to charities of their choice.

When users search on certain pre-identified keywords, they are taken to the MSN Search results page, where they find out whether they won a prize.

Meanwhile, Yahoo executives are examining whether Yahoo users want to be rewarded for searching and what type of prizes they want. In its survey, it asked members to choose from a list of possible monthly rewards for using Yahoo for most of their searches.

Potential rewards included: no Yahoo Mail ads, unlimited Yahoo Mail storage, 250 frequent flier miles a month, five free music downloads a month, discounted Yahoo Music Unlimited subscriptions, a Netflix discount and PC-to-phone calling credit via Yahoo Messenger with Voice.

But this is not a good idea for engines or advertisers, search firms said.

"Marketers don't want incentivized search activity or incentivized clicks, as those tend to be poor quality," said Kevin Lee, chairman of search marketing firm, New York.

Instead of incentivizing members to make Yahoo their main engine, Yahoo should reward users who help it create a better engine, which would have the same effect, said Peter Hershberg, managing partner of search marketing firm Reprise Media, New York.

"If there is tagging they [users do], or if they could rate search results, over time that is going to lead people to use this search engine," Hershberg said.

In addition to lack of advertiser support, Yahoo and other search engines should be wary of moving toward rewards because competitors will follow, watering down the program's effectiveness.

"Like frequent-flier miles, the true loyalty increase may not materialize, and the program will just drive up costs and drive down profit for the engines," Lee said.

Yahoo, meanwhile, is minimizing the importance of the possible rewards program.

"It is not a program at this point, and there are no definitive plans to make it one," Yahoo spokeswoman Kathryn Kelly said. Still, it is a "creative" way to build brand loyalty, she added. "It is typical industry practice for most major companies to thank their loyal customers with incentives and/or awards."

Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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