SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge) -- Did Microsoft's Bing just overtake Yahoo as the second-largest search engine? And after the two are integrated this fall, does that really matter?
On the heels of a $100 million branding campaign, Bing actually overtook Yahoo in August with a 13.9% share in the U.S. search market, compared to Yahoo's 13.1%, according to data released today by Nielsen Co. Bing gained 2% from July to August, while Yahoo lost 8%. Google gained a percentage point and rose to a 65.1% share.
"It's the first time that a major rating service is putting Bing ahead of Yahoo," said Danny Sullivan, analyst and editor in chief of Search Engine Land. "The reason they're overtaking Yahoo is because people like alternatives."
That's a big difference from ComScore's July numbers, which had Yahoo with a 6% advantage. ComScore's August numbers won't be out for a few days.
It's a small gain, to be sure, but a psychic boost for Microsoft, even if it's failed to make inroads against its true rival: Google. Indeed, over the past year, about 3 percentage points of share have shifted from Yahoo to Microsoft, while Google has remained steady.
Nielsen's VP of search, Shiven Ramji, said his company only counts user-generated and user-initiated searches -- a methodology that may differ from other rating services. "For example, Yahoo has a slide show that is displaying search results based on previous sites you have visited," Mr. Ramji said. "We do not count those as Yahoo search results."
Search experts watching the numbers for signs of shifts said they can vary greatly depending on who counts and what they count, but it looks like in this case they're adding up. "There's always been a huge discrepancy in numbers across these measurement companies," said Rob Garner, senior strategy director at iCrossing, a unit of Hearst. "But overall they balance out, and there's a pattern."
Yahoo has been in decline when it comes to search for many years; its home page is much more focused on editorial content than search itself. Yahoo is in the process of adopting Bing's technology to power its search -- an integration that is near complete. Once finished, Yahoo will still sell search ads, and create its own search experiences, but the algorithms will be all Microsoft.
So if Yahoo and Bing are in a partnership, why does Bing being No. 2 matter? At this point, taking share from Yahoo, a search partner, is counterproductive for Microsoft, which needs a greater combined share to form a stronger competitor to Google.
"Yahoo threw in the towel, and their users know that," Mr. Garner said. "This data is symbolic for Bing. They are going to continue to take share from Yahoo, and even though it's their own syndication, they need to maintain the Bing share and grow the sum of the two engines and get the share from Google."
Whether it's ComScore or Nielsen, Google is still king. Nielsen numbers solidify Google's dominance with a 65% share of the market. Indeed, the sum share of Yahoo and Bing -- at 27%, according to Nielsen -- is not increasing. At the time of the search deal last year, execs said they needed to be at 30% -- or close to 30% of the market -- to compete on the same playing field as Google.
Why is it important to have a No. 2 search engine if Google is so good at what it does? "We now have a contender that we didn't have before," Mr. Garner said. "That's important for our marketing clients and the industry as a whole. The issue has always been that we want to give our clients options."