In February's search sweepstakes, Microsoft's Bing engine picked up just over 1.5 percentage points of market share, while Google lost just over a point, and Yahoo held almost even with a loss of less than half a percentage point, according to a leading Web analytics firm.
Overall, U.S. searches declined by more than 1 billion in February, slipping to 9.18 billion from 10.27 billion in January, the Nielsen Company said in a blog post.
In the February rankings, Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Bing saw its market share increase from 10.9 percent of all U.S. searches in January to 12.5 percent last month. That amounts to 1.14 billion searches using Bing in February, up from 1.18 billion in January.
Microsoft broke the 10 percent market share barrier in November, and has continued climbing slowly but steadily since the launch of Bing in early June.
In contrast, search giant Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) still held a 65.2 percent share in February, though that figure was off slightly from the 66.3 percent mark the company posted in January. That translates into a total of 5.98 billion U.S. searches for Google last month, compared to 6.8 billion in January, Nielsen said.
Meanwhile, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) almost held its own for the month. Yahoo slipped 0.4 percentage points in February, bringing its market share to 14.1 percent. That works out to 1.29 billion searches. In January, Yahoo performed 1.49 billion U.S. searches.
The gradual decline of Yahoo's search market share does not appear to be related to the No. 2 player's recently-signed, 10-year search and advertising deal with Microsoft. It will take months, if not years, for Microsoft to substitute its Bing technology for Yahoo's underlying search infrastructure through that arrangement, which only recently one the blessing of U.S. and European regulators.
Earlier this month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told a Silicon Valley audience that he's happy with Bing's progress in the search market since its launch. Once the Yahoo deal is implemented, the combined market share is expected to create a more competitive second-place search competitor to Google than either company could on its own.
Using Nielsen's figures, the combined entity would have claimed 26.6 percent of the search market in February, compared to Google's 65.2 percent.
Despite the long odds, Ballmer is not likely to give up the quest any time soon. He said in June that he is willing to spend between 5 percent and 10 percent of Microsoft's operating income over five years to make Bing successful.