SAN FRANCISCO: In a bid to close the ever-widening gap with Google on Internet searches, Microsoft has started offering consumers redeemable points for using its search service. The programme was launched as new Web traffic figures showed that Google had extended its lead to 63 per cent of the US search market in August. Yahoo came in with a 19.6 per cent share, followed by Microsoft with an 8.3 per cent share. Microsoft hopes that its new SearchPerks programme will help counter the trend by giving consumers, who enroll in the programme, tickets for any searches they do using Microsoft's Live Search service. The virtual tickets can be redeemed for prizes, such as airline miles, music downloads and games for Microsoft's XBox video game system. The launch of SearchPerks followed the introduction in May of Live Search Cashback, a programme that pays cash rebates to customers who find and buy products using the software giant's search service. Microsoft said that tests showed that people were three times more likely to use Live Search when they were offered redeemable points than when they weren't. "People like to engage with us a lot more when they use SearchPerks," says Frederick Savoye, a senior director on Microsoft's search team. However the promotion will remain an experiment for now, limited to the first 250,000 users in the US that download a Web application that records how many searches they do daily on Google, Yahoo or Microsoft. To maintain privacy, the programme only tracks the number of searches and not the type of searches people do. SearchPerk users get one "ticket" for every search done on Microsoft, and can receive up to 25 tickets a day. The company has not yet determined how many points will be needed to claim prizes. The programme is currently available only for Internet Explorer 6 or higher.