Yahoo has taken the top spot away from Google. According to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), while Google might still be the search king in market share, consumers prefer Yahoo.
The annual ACSI report on e-business Web sites includes measurements of search engines and portals as well as online news and information sites. Yahoo's customer satisfaction score of 79 on the ACSI's 100-point scale is up almost 4 percent this year, while Google slipped 3.7 percent to 78, its second yearly decline in a row.
"Even more important than Yahoo's first lead over Google is the trend of their scores moving in opposite directions," according to Larry Freed, online satisfaction expert and president and CEO of ForeSee Results, which sponsors the ACSI e-business report. "Since the ACSI is a leading indicator of financial performance on the macro scale and at the company level, we may see a real turnaround for Yahoo in the next year."
Will Yahoo Win the War?
What's not clear from the data is whether the respondents were comparing apples to apples, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. It's not necessarily Yahoo search versus Google search," he said. "People may be rating Yahoo as a whole, which includes product features like mail."
The study didn't ask respondents to reveal the reasoning behind their ratings. Rather, they were given a battery of categories to score. Interpreting what the scores really mean for the future of the search engine landscape, then, is difficult, Sterling said.
"Because there's no direct explanation of why the ratings arose, it's not entirely clear on the Yahoo side why the satisfaction ratings were better or, for Google, why it performed worse than it has in the past," Sterling said. "But this is an early warning sign to Google that it needs to possibly do a better job of publicizing all its services or making changes to its interface."
Asking About Ask
Yahoo is not the only search engine seeing gains this year. With a customer satisfaction score of 75, Ask.com posted this year's biggest increase. It wasn't all good news beyond the top two players, though. AOL.com posted the biggest decline, down more than 9 percent to 67. For its part, MSN.com is up only one point this year with a customer satisfaction rating of 75.
"Ask.com is making huge inroads on the other competitors in the portal and search engine category," Freed said. "And it has done this despite a second relaunch this year, which was apparently carried off so well that it didn't have the usual backlash of dropping customer satisfaction scores. Ask.com has mastered the crucial mix of evolution and revolution."
Beyond Portals and Engines
In addition to measuring portals and search engines, the annual e-business report measures news and information sites, including ABCNews.com (74), MSNBC.com (74), CNN.com (73), NYTimes.com (73) and USAToday.com (72).
"There is no clear winner in the news and information space, as all of the sites have difficulty in differentiating themselves from the pack and leveraging the unique personalities that exist in their traditional channels," said Freed.
Customer satisfaction with the e-business category overall slipped for the first time this year, falling more than a point to 75.2, lower than the ACSI national average across all industries (75.3) and the latest ACSI average score for e-commerce companies (80).