A number of folks have commented on the survey that some Yahoo! Mail users received about search incentives. I don't know a lot about it, but I'm a bit surprised by the reactions to this hardly new idea. (A9 has had something similar for a while with Amazon.com)

Incentives won’t make Yahoo or MSN #1 search:

On the heels of saying they were not going to focus on being #1 search and then taking that back, Yahoo is now flirting around with an incentive plan for users who switch to their search. What a cliche this “incentives to do XYZ thing” is and for them it’s a sign of desperation to me.

That's a pretty cynical view of the situation. Let's look at it in light of other incentive programs. The airlines have been doing this for years. You fly with American Airlines and they'll give you "mileage points" that you can accumulated and redeem for free travel and such. Discover Card offers cash back at the end of the year.

Why do they do this?

Because when you're in a commodity business, you need to offer people a reason to choose you and stick with your service. They need something that helps to break the tie in their head. Choosing between two or more nearly indistinguishable services is always hard.

You might not think that web search is a commodity service, but I've seen public and private data that suggests we're headed that way. It was only a matter of time, right?

Does that mean there won't be other differentiating features? Of course not. But the core services are pretty darn similar today, aren't they?

Some people fly American because they offer more room in coach. But those frequent flier miles don't hurt either.

Posted by jzawodn at February 09, 2006 09:00 PM

Reader Comments
# Joe Hunkins said:

Incentives are fine but I'm not convinced a modest program is going to do much to tip the scale. Could somebody in search really step up to the plate and engage the user both with services AND with a "real" economic stake in the success of their enterprise? I'm skeptical, but wouldn't that beat 15% off at Red Lobster?

on February 9, 2006 10:22 PM
# Hashim said:

Yahoo cannot offer me a big enough incentive to compensate for not showing me the best results for my search. My searching is too valuable to be swayed by a gift.

Yahoo should just come out and declare themselves as the best search engine. Is it true? Who knows? But it will help to change the image problem.

on February 9, 2006 10:39 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Hashim Yahoo and Google are already about the same in quality with MSN improving. So the issue will become "breaking the tie" with goodies. I think with the RIGHT incentive people will switch faster than you can "Get Lucky" at Google.

on February 9, 2006 11:02 PM
# Danny Sullivan said:

I agree entirely, Jeremy. I talked with three different mainstream reporters yesterday about this, and all of them started out asking me the same thing. Doesn't this show how desperate Yahoo is? No. It's just good marketing sense. If you can reward people without harming the value of your core product, of course you should.

on February 10, 2006 04:19 AM
# Nigel said:


I don't think so, that metric you pointed to measures relevance, but being relevant is easy, it's being *optimal* that's hard.

Google gave them 5 sites related to their topic, or the 5 *best* sites related to their topic?

The only thing we have a commodity of is 'wannabe Google clones', with everyone tweaking their results to look the same as Googles because thats what pundits think are the best results. So of course everyone is bunched up just below Google, cloning Google result set takes just an optimization algorithm.

It gets worse the further away from English text heavy sites you go.

For example, on image search try
[bmw car headlights sunset]
Yet its here:

But even text searches could be way better.

on February 10, 2006 04:44 AM
# aaron wall said:

I think the key is to make people feel like the results are theirs and that they make the web better by using your service.

here are the sound bytest (at least as I understand them) from the major engines

MSN = we can pay users up to $50 a year.
Google = we pay users by providing them the most relevant results.
Yahoo! = somewhere in the middle.

on February 10, 2006 05:09 AM
# Peter T Davis said:

Airlines are a good example to use, since they've done so well recently? I agree with your point, kinda, just thought it very ironic that anyone would think of using the Airline industry as a positive example. :p

on February 10, 2006 07:14 AM
# WebMetricsGuru said:

In one company I work for (won't name it here) measuring Loyality of visitors is a big deal. Measuring Loyality of Searchers - that's a further refinement. How would you measure Loyality of a searcher (since most people that use Yahoo also use Google and vice versa)?

Marshall Sponder

on February 10, 2006 11:55 AM
# FrankMash said:

I completely agree with you and second the thoughts of Danny Sullivan. Indeed if you can offer rewards without lowering the quality, its just good marketing.

on February 10, 2006 04:09 PM
# gradiva Couzin said:

Maybe Yahoo & MSN are doing this to try to introduce the "commodity search" idea into the mind of the searcher - getting searchers to actually *believe* or at least entertain the notion that all SEs are providing an equivalent product.

(I'm surprised nobody has mentioned, was it iwon.com? The SE that offered rewards and cash for searching? Boy, that was sooooooo '90s.)


on February 13, 2006 03:22 PM
# Aman said:

While I am with everyone that this gimmick is not going to make MSN or YAHOO #1 SE's but i don't see anything wrong with them trying this out.

I've read a lot of reports/news articles/blogs etc. saying its all in bad taste and sign of desperation, but if you step back (especially out of silicon valley and techie user's world) how different is MSN giving prizes to people for using its search than GM giving you thousands of dollars in discount/prizes etc. for buying it (crappy) cars or Ford doing the same to sell its (crappy) trucks?

And guess what Ford sells 1 million F-150s (250% more than any other vehicle!) in north america alone and GM is still (well atleast as of now) the biggest car maker in the world.

So it will be fun to see how this works out.


on February 24, 2006 12:40 PM
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