Exploiting MSN's Incentivized Search


I woke up this morning to a cancelled class and an interesting TW post on Microsoft's incentivized search. I had a little downtime so I thought I would try to crack the system. Thing is, I did.

If you haven't played with the search, the idea is this; you search like normal, but there's a chance a special link will appear and if you click it, there's a chance you could win a prize. (Purposely redundant, the system *is* chance/chance.)

I played with the system a little and figured out that certain keywords will always throw the special prize link. Of course this is easy to check with a script so I discretely pounded MSN with about 10k higher paying keywords and checked the pages for the link using a regex match. This provided me with about 400 keywords that would always throw the link. Even though the probability of winning is about 1:125,000 (sometimes up to 1:2,000,000) for each prize, the overall chance of winning as stated by MSN is about 1:4,000. I think these numbers are very misleading but I'll get to that a little bit further.

I ran my searches through a proxy at a reasonable speed, lifted the links, and developed a tiny windows app to click a link on the prize link if it showed up. I wasn't sure about how the prize page would be coded so I just sat back with my Frosted Mini Wheats (bite size of course) and watched for a winner. 11 proxies and 4122 clicks later, I was rewarded with this:

MSN Rocks.

So it works.

Here's why I think the MSN odds of winning are deceptive.

  • I can't be the only guy running crazy queries to MSN right now. My kungFoo is the best but it's not the only style. I imagine people are hitting the search really hard right now, and the odds of winning are rising very quickly.
  • Only certain keywords are throwing Search and Win links. As the average user obviously doesn't have access to the tools I do, their chance of even seeing a win link is much smaller.

The system may be flawed but I think it is brilliant. They are improving customer loyalty, attracting new customers, increasing ad impressions, and my favorite, combatting ad blindess.

I don't think it's any accident that the Search and Win links are appearing largely for keywords that not only have good prices, but huge inventory :-)


Further Reading

I wasn't going to mention it but the oilman spilled the beans -- more kw's in the source code!

Whats The

"French Connection" all about? If you look in the bottom left corner of your browser when the MSN Search & Win is resolving, you will see: pro.weboram.fr

BTW: Nice Win!


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.