Microsoft Bing Slips Against Google, but Search Fight Continues

Microsoft's Bing search engine, after incremental gains in U.S. search engine market share throughout the summer, experienced a slight dip, according to a small number of research firms. Despite that one-month fall in its numbers, Bing has positioned itself for long-term competition with archrival Google, thanks in part to Microsoft's search partnership with Yahoo.

Microsoft's Bing search engine saw its September share of the U.S. market slip to 8.5 percent from 9.6 percent in August, while Google's share hit 80 percent, according to a new report from analytics firm StatCounter.

According to StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen, the trend for Bing has been downward since mid-August: "The wheels haven't fallen off, but the underlying trend must be a little worrying for Microsoft." Redmond's new partner in search, Yahoo, also saw its market share decline from 10.5 percent in August to 9.4 percent in September.

Statistics firm Net Applications similarly found that Bing's share of the market had hit 3.39 percent for September, down incrementally from 3.52 percent the previous month. In its estimation, Google dipped roughly the same amount, from 83.33 percent in August to 83.13 percent in September.

Should Microsoft be worried?

The answer is most likely no.

To accompany Bing's June 3 rollout, Microsoft spent some $80 million to $100 million in a massive ad campaign that utilized both traditional and online channels. That money helped Microsoft make incremental gains in the search engine space throughout the summer, eventually claiming 10.7 percent of U.S. online searches in August, according to one study done by research firm Nielsen.

Bing also received another publicity boost when it became a crux of the partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo, announced on July 29, which will see Microsoft powering Yahoo's search apparatus. Once actualized in 2010, that deal will conceivably raise Bing's search engine market share to close to 30 percent, nearly half that of Google.

In a Sept. 14 question-and-answer session at New York's Jefferies Annual Technology Conference, Charles Songhurst, Microsoft's general manager of corporate strategy, said Bing still has room to grow, particularly in an international context.

"It's active and usable, but it hasn't had the marketing push behind it [worldwide]. And what we've found is that that marketing push makes a huge difference," Songhurst said. "I think the other thing we're beginning to find is that the search market is more differentiated, and less homogeneous, than we thought."

Microsoft's massive ad campaign is likely winding down, meaning that Bing will inevitably level off as users no longer find themselves subjected to "brand awareness" via omnipresent advertising.

But one month does not a trend make, necessarily, and the introduction of new features by both Microsoft and Google may slightly influence those market share numbers in the weeks and months ahead. For its own part, Google recently expanded its Search Options with the ability to filter results by past hour, specific date range, shopping sites, visited pages, books, blogs and news.

The biggest challenge facing Microsoft may lie in trying to figure out how to take best advantage of its Yahoo deal, in order to better leverage Bing's increased presence against Google.

That deal "will have to demonstrate major future synergies if it is to make any dent in Google's dominance," StatCounter's Cullen said in a statement soon after the announcement of the Microsoft-Yahoo deal in July.

Microsoft has also publicly positioned itself strongly behind the Bing brand, making it unlikely that Redmond will give up on supporting and funding the search engine anytime soon. Bing is "as good a view of our tenacity and commitment as anything you've ever seen," CEO Steve Ballmer told the audience at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans in July.

"Man, oh man, have we taken a lot of abuse, and we're still just an itsy-bitsy part of the market," Ballmer added at the time, "but we have a little bit of mojo."