Executives at a Redondo Beach startup think they've found the way to break into the notoriously competitive search market space, the one that's dominated by such giants as Google and Yahoo.
They lure users with gifts.
People who surf Swagbucks.com a new search engine that runs on licensed software that fuses results from Google and Ask.com win points a few times a day. The currency is called Swagbucks and it can be traded for goodies ranging from a $5 gift card for Starbucks to a ticket on Southwest Airlines or even an iPhone.
"Everyone is looking for a brand new application that will out-Google Google, but all we're doing is leveraging what's already out there to make the search experience more rewarding," said Josef Gorowitz, founder and chief executive of El Segundo-based Prodege, which launched its Swagbucks search engine this month.
The concept is not new. MyPoints.com, for example, is a shopping portal that rewards users the same way. But bringing it to a search engine is a fairly new idea. Other search engines offer sweepstakes to attract users, but Swagbucks.com allows people to amass points over time by using the search engine. The company makes money from ads, like Google and other search engines.
Analyst David Card at Jupiter Research said the idea might fly if the company can be certain that it is rewarding desired behavior. In other words, some people might go to the site just to win points instead of doing searches.
Swagbucks are awarded based on randomly selected IP addresses. Every user wins a few points at least once a day, and they are deposited into their registered account. At that pace, it may take up to 18 months to earn more expensive gifts, such as a flat-screen television. Those who register friends get extra points and can cash in sooner.
For the user, the search experience is a normal one, since the searches are routed through Google and Ask.com.
Before it branched into Swagbucks.com, Prodege, which incorporated in 2005 and employs five people, started out with a line of branded search engines for celebrities. Users don't have to search for anything related to the celebrity. However, by using, say, SearchWithMandyMoore.com instead of Google, Mandy Moore fans earn Swagbucks and can redeem them for autographed CDs, posters or other memorabilia related to the performer.
The company operates 77 such sites including ones for singers Kanye West, Beyonce and Barry Manilow.
"The site provides a cool service for our fans in a nonintrusive way," said Bryan Calhoun, a media consultant for Kanye West. "They're not like pop-up ads."
SearchWithKanyeWest.com has garnered about a half-million page views since it went live a few weeks ago. It grew organically without any marketing efforts, but Calhoun said the search engine will soon be promoted through the singer's blogs and social networking profiles.
Since Prodege began dispensing Swagbucks on its celebrity branded sites in October, the company has given away more than 6,600 prizes.
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