Microsoft Rolls Out 'Secret Search' Program In Australia

Ninemsn, Microsoft's joint venture with PBL Media in Australia, has rolled out "Secret Search," a promotion in which Internet users can win prizes in exchange for using Live Search. Prizes include Compaq Presario computers, Canon Powershot digital cameras, iPods, gift certificates, and even cash.

The portal mirrors Yahoo's partnership with Seven Media Group for Yahoo7, in that it pulls in original content from both Microsoft and PBL's various print and digital properties. Still, Ninemsn offers a number of distinct search advantages. For example, the www.ninemsn.com.au homepage is what Australian users see when they exit their Windows Live Hotmail accounts, and it's also the default page setting for Australian Internet Explorer 7 users.

The Poker-style Secret Search promotion is linked to every search query. Each time a user searches, three cards (from a set of five) will flip over to reveal various prizes in the upper navigation bar. If all three cards match, the user wins said prize. Prizes are awarded in 15-minute windows through the end of July.

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Secret Search comes shortly after Microsoft launched Cashback in the U.S., which offers Live Search users cash back for every product they search for (and eventually buy) on the engine. The promotion is also in the vein of the Live Search Club campaign Microsoft launched in May 2007, which used a combination of casual games and prizes to entice searchers to use Live Search.

The tactics show that Microsoft isn't afraid of trying unorthodox solutions to increase search traffic. And while critics have scoffed at the campaigns, saying that Microsoft is simply "paying" for more market share, the Live Search Club promo was particularly effective. Last year, data from Compete showed a 67% spike in Live Search queries from May to June 2007, and a 48% jump year-over-year.

And Ninemsn, which has been plagued with declining traffic (unique monthly visits were down 13% in May, per comScore) and a slew of executive departures, can use all of the boosts to traffic and search market share it can get. Some five senior executives have resigned within the past three months, including CEO Tony Faure, who's slated to leave in August.

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