Microsoft's Bing search engine experienced its ninth straight month of market share growth in February, but at the slowest rate since September, according to a leading Web analytics firm.
Just launched in June, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Bing finished February with a total 11.5 percent share of U.S. searches, according to a new report from comScore (NASDAQ: SCOR). That was up from 11.3 percent in January and 10.7 percent in December.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's new partner Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) had its 13th straight decline in market share for February, falling 0.2 percent in February to 16.8 percent, down from 17 percent the previous month.
That leaves search giant Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) with 65.5 percent for February, up 0.1 percent from January's mark of 65.4 percent, but still shy of the 65.7 percent share it had in December.
"Microsoft's steady market share gains have been impressive, but notably February's gain represents Bing's lowest monthly share increase since September, suggesting Bing's share increases could be showing early signs of running out of steam," Broadpoint AmTech analyst Benjamin Schachter wrote in a research note about the latest comScore figures.
All in all, however, the balance of power in the search market seems to be stabilizing, which may or may not be a good harbinger.
Microsoft and Yahoo signed their historic 10-year search pact in early December. Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft will provide its Bing search technology as infrastructure for Yahoo's sites and, in return, gain a portion of the advertising from Yahoo search queries.
Part of the rationale for the deal is to present a stronger No. 2 competitor to Google in the long run, though between Bing's gains and Yahoo's declines, it looks now like it could turn out to be a wash.
"On a combined basis, Microsoft and Yahoo's share of February queries was 28.3 percent (flat vs. January and up slightly vs. 28.0 percent in December)," Schachter said.
"The impact on Yahoo's revenue and earnings will be mitigated by the fact that some of Yahoo's query declines are coming from less profitable distribution deals, but Yahoo must find a way to stabilize and then gain back share," he concluded.