Home Can Microsoft Win the Search Wars with Charity?

Can Microsoft Win the Search Wars with Charity?

The Microsoft Live Search team announced today that it had expanded the company’s Search and Give charitable searching program to more than 1 million eligible organizations. The program donates 1 cent for each search conducted by users to the school or charity of their choice up to 500 searches per month (or $60/year per person). Can Microsoft possibly make a dent in Google’s stranglehold on the search market by offering up charitable donations as an incentive to search?

The Search and Give program launched last September and has raised just under $315,000 for over 20,000 charities. Some quick back of the envelope math: If we assume that everyone participating is maxing out their 500 searches per month, we get about 7,000 people participating in the Search and Give program. That’s a rather abysmally small number when you’re talking about the global Internet community. And 31.5 million searches in 9 months is drop in the bucket when you consider that the total core search market is 10.7 billion searches — per month. If you further consider that some of those 7,000 users are bound to be current Live Search user anyway — and not Google/Yahoo! converts — things look even more grim.

But, Microsoft has found some success with this type of program in the past. We reported on their i’m initiative last September, which pays charities when people use Windows Live Messenger. At the time, i’m had raised just $92,000 but Microsoft was touting new user acquisition percentage gains for Windows Live Messenger that were double the average of its three main competitors (AOL IM, Yahoo! IM, and Google GTalk).

Despite its slow start, at the end of April this year Microsoft donated $1.3 million to the i’m charities for the first year of charitable instant messaging. (Of course, each of the 10 charities participating had a $100,000 guarantee, from Microsoft — so it is unclear how much of the total was raised by instant messenger usage — it’s possible all of it was, and it’s also possible that just a small portion was.) A month ago, Microsoft added Windows Live Mail to the US-only i’m initiative, and another $200,000 has already been raised. Search and Give is also US-only right now.

Regardless of how much was or wasn’t raised for charity directly by i’m, the user growth rates of 4-6% per month that Microsoft was experiencing on Live Messenger last year would certainly be welcome for Live search. It’s a little odd that Microsoft’s Search and Give isn’t just part of i’m — a program that already has a lot of brand recognition and has already proven successful. But then, Microsoft is known for brand confusion.

The bottom line here is that even though Americans are known for their charitable donations, it seems like a longshot that it will make much of a dent in Google’s market share. That said, as we concluded about i’m last fall, the cost to charities is zero, the cost to users is zero, and the benefit to everyone involved is major, so in our opinion Search and Give is a great idea.

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