Microsoft has embarked on the purchase of Greenfield Online, owner of price comparison shopping portal Ciao which has sites in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Sweden.

Ciao provides a platform where registered users can write reviews on a wide variety of products to help others make decisions. It claims 38 million visitors per month and also provides up-to-date price comparison information from thousands of online merchants.

Microsoft says that the purchase will increase its European commercial search capabilities as part of its intent to make Microsoft Live Search the premier destination for consumers looking to research and purchase goods and services online, as well as enable merchants to drive greater online sales. Ciao’s technology platform, online community and merchant relationships will be integrated within the Live Search platform.

"Ciao’s success has been led by a team of talented people who took a unique combination of intuitive technology and the insight that comes out of their passionate consumer community to become one of Europe’s leading shopping comparison sites,” says John Mangelaars, vice president, Consumer and Online, Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa. "This makes the company a fantastic asset to the future of our search offer. Integrating Ciao’s capabilities into Live Search will provide a strong launch pad for our commercial search offer in Europe and enhance our e-commerce offering on MSN."

Microsoft has been busy bolstering its search capabilities recently in light of Google's seemingly unstoppable dominance. The Redmond giant says that its search strategy is focused on three key areas: delivering the best results, simplifying key tasks and innovating in the business model. For commercial search, this means simplifying how consumers research and purchase online. Microsoft says that work is ongoing to ensure that Live Search delivers across all these categories, building on its acquisitions of UK-based Multimap and Norway's Fast Search & Transfer and its intention to open a European Search Technology Centre later this year.