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Microsoft's new tack: Bribery as a business model

At first blush, Redmond's plan to lure search users with cash rebates sounds desperate. But only if this is the last word--and it isn't.

So the newsis leaking out fast: Microsoft plans to lure users by dangling cash rebates to people who buy stuff using the company's search. Will it work? At this point, I suppose it can't hurt--though no doubt Microsoft is leaving itself open to being ridiculed as a Delancey Street hondler.

Arnold Zafra over at Search Engine Journal wrote that he "cringed" when he heard about the news. Ouch.

A couple of thoughts:

This isn't the first time that Microsoft has tried something like this. As CNET's Ina Fried noted Wednesday:

It has run a number of programs including its Live Search Club that offer rewards for those that use its search. The Live Search Club effort briefly boosted Microsoft's search market share last year, but the gains have proved short lived. Microsoft has been losing ground since then and has returned to a single digit share of the market.

But truth be told, it's not the worst idea. What's the harm in giving it a shot? In a recession--or whatever you want to call the current economic malaise in the United States--consumers are open to bribes (oh, I forgot: rebates). So why not see if this strikes the people's fancy? But this is only a holding action. The reason more people use Google's search is the user experience. It works better, so they keep returning. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer knows this. That's why he still thinks making a move for some of Yahoo's assets makes sense. He's anxious about staying pat with Microsoft's current search hand and wants to fix things, either through developing technology internally or buying it on the open market.

No way this is the final word.