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Microsoft Has a New Payback Plan for Searchers

In its ongoing quest for a bigger share of the search market, Microsoft has unveiled another incentive program designed to get more consumers using its search engine.

Consumers who enroll in the SearchPerks promotional program accumulate tickets for any searches they do using Microsoft's Live Search service. The virtual tickets can be redeemed for prizes, such as airline miles, music downloads and games for Microsoft's XBox video game system.

The news comes as Google continues to widen its lead in consumer search. Last month, Comscore reported Google had extended its lead to 63 percent of the U.S. search market in August with its biggest monthly gain in five months. Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) came in with a 19.6 percent share, followed by Microsoft with an 8.3 percent share.

"Our experience with other incentive-based programs demonstrated that there is an opportunity to increase user loyalty in the search space," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail sent to InternetNews.com. "Building audience requires innovation in the product as well as a diverse set of marketing programs to communicate with consumers. We are actively pursuing both to continue growing our search share. "

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a recent appearance that winning in search isn't about using "brute force," but redefining the experience for users and the business model.

"To go up from nine percent in any market is going to take a while," Ballmer said. "We've improved the core relevance of our search results in an amazing fashion. The market leader has the brand; we need to try and fundamentally reinvent the search business."

SearchPerks isn't the first incentive related to Microsoft's search efforts. In May, the company launched Live Search Cashback, a program that pays cash rebates to customers who find and buy products using the software giant's search service.

IDC analyst Karsten Weide said it makes sense for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to employ these kinds of programs if it has any hopes of catching market leader Google (NASDAQ: GOOG).

"You can't be a big player in online advertising if you're not big in search because 40 percent of online ad revenue is spent on search," Weide told InternetNews.com. "That may change in years to come, but not in the near term. Microsoft trails Google badly in market share, but the quality of Live has now pulled even with Google."

Weide say the SearchPerks is a good idea, but will likely be a small part of any plan to gain significant market share. "Microsoft is very determined and it's investing a lot of money," he said.