But it's still too early to state that Google has peaked or that Microsoft is finally closing the gap with Google.
"Google has a tendency to see share declines during the summer, driven in part by vacations, fewer work days, and reliance on academia from its core user base," said comScore spokesperson Andrew Lipsman via e-mail, noting that Google and Yahoo both saw increases in query volume in June and that Google's "share decline is really a function of the disproportionate increase at Microsoft this month."
The overall volume of U.S. search queries reached 8 billion in June, up 6% from May and 26% from June 2006, according to statistics released today by Internet metrics company comScore.
Google's share of the growing U.S. search market declined from 50.7% in May to 49.5% in June.
Yahoo's share of the U.S. search market showed a similar decline, dropping from 26.4% to 25.1% during the same period.
Ask's U.S. search share remained unchanged at 5%.
Microsoft's U.S. search share rose from 10.3% to 13.2%, "due in large part to Live Search Club, a program launched by Microsoft in late May to engage and reward users of Live Search," comScore said.
Compete, another Internet metrics company, last week also reported that Microsoft had seen its share of the U.S. search market rise. Most of that gain was attributable to Live Search Club.
Users of Microsoft Live Search Club claim that people are using macros and other software to automate Live Search Club queries for the sake of collecting prizes awarded for playing Live Search-based games. One such macro, LIVEMACRO, is described as "an unattended macro or 'bot' used for quickly winning club.live.com games. All it takes is a minute of configuration before it happily earns thousands of tickets for you." Presumably, this increases the number of queries processed by Microsoft's search engine.
But Compete claims its metrics are immune to software-based manipulation.
Microsoft says it is dealing with the issue. "As for click fraud, there is always a risk with these kinds of promotions, and we are working diligently to shut down any illegal activity," a Microsoft spokesperson said last week.
However, use of a macro or bot to play Live Search Club games, while it may represent a Terms of Service Violation, isn't necessarily against the law.
Indeed, Microsoft appears to recognize this. A screenshot posted yesterday on the Facepunch Studios Live Search Club forum shows what is purportedly an e-mail from a Microsoft Online Customer Service representative to a Live Search Club user. "I understand that legitimate players use cheat codes to obtain tickets in Live search club site," (sic) the message says, in what's either a poor choice of words or recognition that cheating is legitimate.