Comscore questions Microsoft, Yahoo tactics used to generate latest search gains

The May comScore U.S. search market share data is out, and both Bing and Yahoo are showing gains over April, while Google is down slightly. But even comScore is questioning its own data.

The May comScore U.S. search market share data is out, and both Bing and Yahoo are showing gains over April, while Google is down slightly. But even comScore is questioning its own data.

Both Yahoo and Microsoft are including links on their respective Yahoo and MSN portal pages "that are search queries disguised as content," according to a story from Business Insider. The pair also "have been stitching together image slideshows as search queries, too," the post explains.

How much of Bing's and Yahoo's growth this month is attributable to these tricks? ComScore isn't saying, but it is acknowledging that it is changing its data collection procedures after this calendar quarter ends to take the changing search landscape into account.

In April, Google had 64.4 percent share; Yahoo 17.7 percent; and Bing, 11.8 percent, comScore found. In May, the new percentages were Google 63.7 percent; Yahoo, 18.3 percent; and Bing 12.1 percent.

Comscore officials have been careful not to accuse outright Microsoft or Yahoo of gaming the numbers. But officials did take the time to explain why comScore will be changing the way it calculates search results going forward.

From a June 10 post to the comScore site:

"Traditionally, the industry has thought about a 'search' event as a submission of a query that subsequently presents a set of results to a user. comScore’s definition of search requires that the user be presented with search results and be able to completely change or refine their search directly from the result page. This encompasses the traditional “text box” query, as is the case with the major search engines’ main search entry point.

"Some context-driven search experiences also meet comScore’s current criteria for qualifying as a search and are therefore counted in qSearch market share reporting. At the same time, comScore recognizes that these are inherently different experiences compared to traditional web search queries. And because context-driven searches are sometimes monetized at different rates than traditional searches, we believe it is important to provide the marketplace with visibility into how they are contributing to search share. For this reason, we will continue to explicitly quantify context-driven search volume in our monthly release notes to clients."

Microsoft announced last week it was ending its Bing Cashback program -- another vehicle which some critics claimed allowed Microsoft to game search results by "bribing" users with rewards to use Bing.

ComScore officials said they'll be sharing more about how they will change their search-market-share calculations in the coming weeks.