Thursday, May 17, 2007

Search to Win!

With the ever expanding list of search engines to pick from, there are now several that give their users more than just good results as an incentive to use them. Like what, you might ask? Prizes, points, gift certificates, and cash, in some instances. This new concept in search engine marketing is winning over a wide audience as they have learned from the mistakes of some of their predecessors, like iWon, and have avoided the annoyances of spyware, spam, and over-advertising. Currently, there are two search portals that allow users who sign up to their site to have the ability to win a prize just by doing a search - something all internet users do during their normal course of being online. Searching the internet, like checking your email, chatting with friends, watching videos and downloading files is all part of the daily routine of millions of people who now have included "surfing the web" as part of their daily lives. Companies want to take advantage of this huge market of searchers, and giving people the chance to win something for doing something they will normally do anyway is just a simple choice for most.

A Little History

Before the days of the world wide web, browser wars, and dot coms, there was just the gopher protocol. A sort of plain text web site that was developed at the University of Minnesota. It was a precursor to the hyper text transfer protocol that has come to dominate the web today. But, at the time, it was sort of like a text based FTP that contained no graphics and had no way to stylize it, it was just essentially a way to post information - which is what the post-military internet was mostly about. The main way to query gophers was with search engines like Archie, Veronica, and Jughead. However, once the internet was opened up to people outside of university, military and purely technical institutions, the gopher crawled back in its hole, as a whole new audience came onboard.

Not soon after, the dot-com bubble started expanding, and companies started to create companies based entirely on a model under the assumption that advertising, through banner ads mainly, would pay for just about anything you wanted to give away for free. Once that idea failed, it was back to square one for most companies who relied on the standard business model for internet based businesses. You either had to sell something or provide a service, and non-search companies like Amazon and eBay showed the potential of a strictly internet based company making it big.

Fast forward to today, and big search engines and advertising have come back in a major way. With Google and the contextual advertising concept, content has started to be provided for free once again and people are making real money off it.

Okay, so how do I win stuff?

Right now, there are two popular sites that give you the chance to win prizes. The first is Blingo, which was purchased in the summer of 2006 by Publishers Clearing House. Blingo retrieves its search results directly from Google, so searching Blingo will turn up the same results if you searched for the same term on Google. Prizes are given out randomly throughout the day, and the first 25 results per user are eligible for a prize. These include gift certificates to Amazon and movie tickets as the most common prizes, but some of the larger prizes include electronics like iPods and large cash prizes that would be similar to the amount you might expect to win from a scratch off lotto ticket. Blingo is easy to integrate into your usual search by using their toolbar or search plugin (for IE and Firefox).

Blingo also has a referral program, so you can let friends sign up under you. You can sign up as many friends as you want, and the more friends you have, the more you have a chance to win because each time they search and win a prize, you win the same prize. This month, a single friend I had signed up won twice. My first prize was the choice of a $5 Amazon gift certificate or a free movie ticket, which is what most people will end up winning. However, yesterday I got an email notifying me I had won my choice of a 80-hour TiVO with one year of free service or $250 cash!


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With Blingo your chances of winning are totally random, and so it's hard to know when or how often you can win a prize. However, there is another search engine using a similar model that gives you a little more flexibility in how and what you can win.

Read more about Blingo:


Winzy is another search engine that lets you search and get prizes at random times. Winzy retrieves its results from Ask.com. However, it has a few more options that give you chances to win than Blingo. Winzy uses a points based system that gives you points everytime you search. There are also different levels of membership (which are all free) based on how you use Winzy. When you start out, you are at the basic level. But if you set Winzy as your homepage or search from their toolbar or the search box (in Firefox or IE) you become a Gold Member, which gives you more benefits.


Benefits of Gold Star membership include:
  • Your first 50 searches each day are eligible to win an instant prize
  • You now earn 2x Points for each Winzy search
  • You can now earn up to 100 points each day
  • You are automatically entered into the month-end iPod Giveaway limited to Gold Star members
  • You should see a gold star Upgrade next to your account status

You can also upgrade the level of the "Winzy Fan Club" by having a friend join under you. Like Blingo, Winzy also has a similar feature of allowing friends to join under your referral program and if they win, you also win. The points you earn can be used to play games in their arcade, such as Rock, Paper, Scissors, a slot machine type game for Gold members and a roulette wheel for fan club members. You can choose how many points you want to "bet" in the game and winning can give you more points or prizes.

So, Winzy also gives you the chance to win each time you search through them (up to 50 searches per day for Gold members). You are also entered into sweepstakes and random drawings, giving you more chances to win. They also encourage you to invite more friends, which gives you more chances of winning if your friends use Winzy. They give you a wide range of options to invite friends which include sending an email that comes with a free game that lets a friend win points or a prize instantly, buttons and banners you can place in your signatures on forums or email, your own web site, and etc. You can also add a search box for Winzy on your website. Their referral links are a lot 'cleaner' looking than Blingos, which is made up of a series of random letters and numbers. Winzy's link just has your username after their domain (ie: http://www.winzy.com/pogue)

So what's the catch?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, these new search engines have learned from earlier sites that attempted similar methods of giving away prizes. Both have sites have strict privacy policies and you only have to provide your name and address for being sent prizes. You don't receive any spam, junk mail or telephone calls from either company nor is your name sold, shared or rented to anyone for marketing purposes. The only time you'll get an email from them is for notifications you select, such as when a friend signs up or you win a prize. Their toolbars don't have any hidden spyware or garbage in them, although I just use the search box plugins for Firefox, since I use the Google toolbar. But how can these companies work to give away so many prizes and loot? The simple answer is the basic advertising model that worked so long ago, but is now based on contextual ads. These are shown in every search engine you use, normally at the top and the side, labeled as "Sponsored Results". Since these ads show up results based on what you're searching for, you're more likely to click on them and they make money. Advertisers pay good money for targeted results that people are actually interested in, instead of just some random ad that may or may not have any interest to the person viewing it. Blingo is owned by Publishers Clearing House, a very large company that has plenty of money to give away and invest in this new business model.

In the future, we're likely to see more of these search engines that give away prizes, or maybe even more. Right now, InboxDollars just added a "Paid Search" function that pays you 2¢ just to search on Snap.com. Although that isn't really worth investing a lot of time in using, their search results are actually pretty good and it just goes to show that if search engines are willing to pay people just to perform a simple search, there is clearly a lot of money to be made in the search business.


So, give Blingo and Winzy a try and see how you do. Searching is something you do anyway, so why not get something back for doing it? Feel free to post any comments or if you have had any luck in winning anything!

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