Bing continues to climb. What's Microsoft's target? (Hint: It's not Google.)

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    According to the latest data from research firm ComScore, Bing's share of the U.S. Internet search market increased modestly in June, the first month that it fielded its new Bing search engine. But it's not Google that Bing is after.
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The happy news keeps dinging in for Bing.

According to ComScore, a web tracking firm, Microsoft increased its share of the US Internet search market in June, the first month that the company's shiny new search engine became widely available. The dry stats look something like this: Microsoft had 8 percent more of the search market in June than it did in May, while Yahoo's search tool lost ground, capturing about 19 percent of the market. Google stayed more or less consistent, with 65 percent of all Web searches conducted in the States.

Translation?

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Simply put, this is good news for Microsoft. Even if some of that traffic came from curious users, the market share figures show that millions of folks liked Bing enough to stick around. (In a focus test conducted in late June, many users said they preferred the Bing interface. But in the end, 8 out of the 12 users said they planned on sticking with Google.)

This week, Searchignite released a study showing that Bing had not managed to rip any real ad dollars away from Google, yet. Still, as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in May, these things take time. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and in the long-run, Bing could challenge Google even in the search ad dollars department.

"There's no way to just change the whole game in one step," he said. "There's a lot of unmet needs in [the search] category."

A solid month

Bing was first unveiled in late May. At the time, Microsoft said the search tool would be live by June 3, but Bing was pushed online two days early. In early June, Microsoft unveiled a major multimedia advertising campaign, comprised of banner ads, video spots, and interactive displays on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The ads positioned Bing as a “decision engine” – a tool more dynamic and friendly than Google.

And June was kind to Bing.

The critics largely seemed to like Microsoft's new engine, and at one point shortly after launch, Bing edged ahead of Yahoo, to capture second place behind Google. “I think Microsoft may be on to something with Bing, but the decision to battle Google on their own turf seems questionable to me,” Lance Loveday of Search Engine Land wrote at the time. “Even if Bing ends up being a 'better' search engine than Google, the availability of an incrementally better Search Engine isn’t going to cause a massive shift in consumer behavior patterns.”

Wrong target

But what if Microsoft wasn't really gunning for Google at all? What if it was gunning for a different, weaker target? Much of the media maelstrom surrounding the Bing launch was concentrated on the possibility of a Bing vs. Google rat race. (Mea culpa.)

In an interview last month with Fox Business Network, Google CEO Eric Schmidt even got in on the hubbub, dismissing Bing out of hand. “It’s not the first entry for Microsoft. They do this about once a year,” he said. “I don’t think Bing’s arrival has changed what we’re doing. We are about search, we’re about making things enormously successful, by virtue of innovation.”

Locked in the scuffle

As others have noted, of course, Microsoft's real goal – in the short term – is probably to surpass Yahoo. Right now, Google is simply too dominant, and it takes a lot to push folks, en masse, from one search engine to another. Here's one respondent from the focus test on Google and Bing: “Bing generates interest, but it’s hard to take me away from Google because I’m so comfortable with it.”

Right.

But Yahoo? Well, let's face it: the Yahoo search tool is still popular, but it doesn't have the same kind of cultural resonance as Google. Furthermore, Yahoo is slowly ceding its market share – Google is holding constant – making it the likely target for a young upstart.

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