- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. gained a little more ground on Internet search leader Google Inc. in June, largely because of techniques that automate some search requests.

Even with the extra help, both Yahoo and Microsoft still lag far behind Google in the Internet’s most lucrative market, according to data released late Monday by the research firm comScore Inc.

Google’s share of the U.S. search market stood at 62.6 percent through June, down from 63.7 percent in the prior month, comScore said. Yahoo followed at 18.9 percent, up from 18.3 percent in May, with Microsoft’s Bing search service in third at 12.7 percent in May.

Yahoo shares rose 58 cents, or 3.9 percent, to close Tuesday at $15.52 while Google shares added $13.37, or 2.8 percent, to $489.20 and Microsoft shares increased 30 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $25.13.

Attracting more searches is important because the requests yield more opportunities to figure out what’s on people’s minds and show ads tied to those interests. The search engines get paid when a Web surfer clicks on one of the ad links.

But most analysts consider the recent gains of both Yahoo and Microsoft to be misleading because their market shares include requests that don’t require anyone to type into a search box.

If those automated requests had been excluded, Google’s June share would have been 66.2 percent followed by Yahoo at 16.7 percent and Microsoft at 11 percent, according to a breakdown of the comScore figures by Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney.

No matter how the numbers are dissected, Google still continues to handle substantially more search requests than Yahoo and Microsoft combined.

In an effort to pose a more formidable challenge to Google, Microsoft will begin processing Yahoo’s search requests late this year or early next year. The partnership could last through the next decade.

The different interpretations of comScore’s numbers stem from searches occurring while Web surfers are looking at photos or reading stories at Yahoo and Microsoft. ComScore has been counting these so-called slideshow and contextual searches since April.

In a slideshow, search requests are automatically entered into a box above a series of pictures about a news, sports or entertainment event. For instance, a person scrolling through a Yahoo slideshow Tuesday about the recently apprehended “barefoot bandit” could automatically generate search requests for “Colton Harris-Moore” and “newspaper front pages” without entering anything into a search box.

Contextual searches occur when a cursor overs over a highlighted word on a Web page. When this happens, a search box already filled in with a request pops up.

Analysts downplay the value of slideshow and contextual searches because they doubt the automated requests produce ads likely to lead to moneymaking clicks.

If not for the slideshow and contextual searches, Yahoo would have processed 520 million fewer requests in June and Microsoft would have had 374 million fewer requests, Mahaney wrote in a research note.