Searching Beyond the Paid

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Searchinig for Charity

Now that the bottom has officially dropped out of the US economy, people are looking for easy ways to help others. Microsoft has stepped up to the charity plate with its Search and Give website. Apparently this has been around for over a year, but I just read about it last week in my local newspaper. As stated in the article, "Search and Give generates revenue for participating schools and charitable groups" by donating a penny for every search done on the site. The reason this made the local paper is because one of the Lansing elementary schools recently received a check for $0.01 from the program. Nice.

And that's what got me thinking about a couple of things. First off, while this is an interesting and easy way to generate money for your church, school, or whatever, clearly it hasn't been promoted well enough to generate any buzz - or any meaningful money. My kids' school participates in a lot of fundraising programs, but this one was new to me - and I work in the search industry. And there are 2 key barriers within the Search and Give program: one, you have to search from their website. Most people are used to going to Google or Yahoo, or maybe even Live Search, when they need to find something on the web. Getting people to change their habits is not easy, especially if you're not promoting the benefits of changing. And for your organization to get credit, not only do you have to search on SearchandGive, you have to be logged in with your Windows Live ID. If you're not signed in and you try to search, instead of generating a SERP, you get what is essentially an error message saying "Sign in now so your searches generate donations to your selected charity or school." Ugh. While there's a link to "just go to your search results," this is what those of us in the industry call a "stopper." If I get that box, I'm thinking "forget it, I'm gonna click that little 'home' icon and just go to Google."

Secondly, even if this program ran off Live instead of, traffic volume is so low that it barely matters. We can't get enough traction from MSN/Live for our e-commerce clients, much less traction for something that's nice to do, but really isn't going to move the needle for businesses or these worthy charities.

But I give props for good intentions. The donations are coming from Microsoft, and this really is a nice gesture on their part. And, if promoted correctly, it can be an easy way to raise some needed funds for charities who need it now more than ever. It's just a shame that, as usual, Microsoft has made the tool just about as difficult to use as they possibly can.

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