Microsoft: We’ll pay you to search

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Microsoft unveiled a new business plan for its search engine: Shop online using Live Search and it will reward you with “cold hard cash.”

The program promises to pay 2 to 30 percent cash back on more than 10 million products from select retailers. Once the purchase is confirmed, Microsoft will write you a check or deposit the money directly into a PayPal or bank account.

To fund the plan, Microsoft has departed from the traditional pay-per-click advertising model, where rates are based on how many people click on an ad. The new scheme is pay-per-purchase – this way, Microsoft only collects when its users click on an ad and then actually buy something from the retailer.

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This is a great deal for online merchants. The risk attached to placing ads drop significantly – and Microsoft is handing out cash to make the whole deal even sweeter for shoppers. Barnes & Noble, Overstock.com, Home Depot, and about 700 other retailers are already on board.

On the consumer end, it’s a strange pitch, but not a bad idea. Microsoft’s search engine has tried for years to catch up with Google’s 60 percent market share. Perhaps bribery is the way to go. Once the shopping deal entices users, they might stick around and use Live for their everyday searches as well.

But doesn’t paying people to be your friend sound a tad desperate? Popular tech blogger Om Malik told the BBC that “Microsoft is like a bad restaurant – no matter what the incentive, you don’t want to eat there. Their product isn’t working and their share of the market proves that.”

Bill Gates’s new pitch could test the notion that Google’s clean and quick search is what users are looking for. In the end the market will decide.

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