Start-up Zotspot is set to officially launch on Tuesday a site that pays people to search, and pays them even more based on how many other people they refer to the site.
"To give you a sense of the earning potential, we estimate that each referral who uses Zotspot as their primary search engine will generate between 10 cents and 50 cents for you per year. (We can't guarantee those estimates, but we hope to continue to increase member earnings and even pass those numbers in the future!)" the Web site says. "If you refer 10 people, they each refer 10 people and so on, you could earn over $250 per year."
It's not a pyramid scheme because it doesn't require people to pay anything to participate, the site says.
"We're providing a top-notch, high-quality search service. In addition, consumers have the opportunity to earn money," said Zotspot founder and President Mark Davis. "If you are a college student, you can buy some beer with it," or someone can "pay off parking tickets or take their girlfriend out on a date."
Paid via Paypal or check, Zotspot members can instead opt to donate their earnings to a charity or university. They earn a portion of the revenue from the paid search listings every month based on their usage of the service and the number of people they refer to the site, Davis said.
Davis would not say which search engine is powering the site or how many registered users it has.
Zotspot is not the only search site offering incentives as a way to compete against Google and other big players for a slice of the lucrative keyword search-related advertising pie.
Last week, GoodSearch launched its site. The company donates 50 percent of its revenue--about one penny per search--to charities chosen by searchers.
More than 20,000 nonprofits are listed as recipients and some are reaping rewards. For instance, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has earned more than $1,200 from the site and the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has raised more than $1,800.
There are other search companies that offer incentives. Search portal iWon is a sweepstakes site that offers payment and prizes for clicking on links. Another site is Blingo, where random searchers can win cars, movie tickets, cash or gift certificates.
Even to searchers, while Microsoft earlier this year had a site called , but it is now defunct.
"Paying users to search isn't new--iWon.com has been doing this for years and attracts decent traffic," said Chris Sherman, executive editor of Search Engine Watch.
While some people will be attracted to the search-for-cash model, neither of the new sites has a chance of taking any serious traffic away from the major search engines, he said.
"Whether they survive depends largely on how efficiently they operate--the business model really isn't too different than other Web sites surviving on contextual ads from Google or Yahoo, but they're using search rather than content as a 'container' for the ads," Sherman said.