Bing it on!

Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) spunky search engine is gaining ground on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), according to traffic tracker comScore's (Nasdaq: SCOR) latest monthly update.

Google remains the undisputed champ, but its share of this country's explicit queries -- a term that comScore introduced this past summer to weed out the contextually driven clicks that were inflating results for some engines -- slipped a bit sequentially.

Google's 65.4% chunk of stateside queries for the month of February, while impressive, is shy of its 65.6% slice from January. The big winner is Bing, whose share grew from 13.1% in January to 13.6% last month.

A surprising nugget here is that Bing's gains didn't come at the expense of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) or AOL (NYSE: AOL). Those two giants delivered market share that was unchanged during the period. That's a good thing for Microsoft now that it has taken over Yahoo!'s search business. In other words, it's not growing at its own expense. The two sequential losers were really just Google and IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI)

The rub with the data is that there will be monthly blips. Are Yahoo! and AOL really holding up as the sequential data indicates? Is Google really on a slow fade from market dominance? For clearer answers, I prefer to also compare comScore's data to what it was reporting a year earlier.

Let's pit this year's data for January and February with the market share slices from February of 2010.

Search Engine

January 2011

February 2011

February 2010




















Source: comScore.

It's all in the framing, isn't it? There was a lot of buzz over the weekend about Google slipping as a search juggernaut, but it's essentially where it was a year earlier. Bing has grown substantially in that time -- leaping from 11.5% to 13.6% -- but it has come mostly at the expense of Yahoo!, Ask, and AOL.

Every monthly comScore observation matters, of course. Google was holding up better than all three of these data points suggest late last year. However, the real winners and losers will be sorted out through longer stretches than month-by-month dissections.

On that front, Bing is looking like a growing force. Combined with Yahoo!, Bing searches now have a 29.7% slice of the U.S. search market. The two combined for just a 28.3% piece in February last year.

Google doesn't need to panic, but it also can't ignore Mr. Softy's growing presence in the rearview mirror.

Can Microsoft take over Google in a few years? Why? Why not? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.