For the first time, Google has lost its crown to Yahoo as the highest-rated search and portal site in a key customer satisfaction survey.
Since 2002, when the University of Michigan first began tracking Google in its American Customer Satisfaction Index, Google has led the pack for e-business sites, which the ACSE defines as portals, search engines, and news and information sites. But this year, Yahoo's score of 79 beat out Google's performance at 78.
While that narrow lead falls within the survey's 2-point margin of error, says Larry Freed, president of Foresee Results, a private Michigan company which sponsored and analyzed the ACSI e-business scores, it represents a large six-point shift since last year, when Google held a five-point lead over Yahoo. This year's results represent an increase of 3 points, or 3.9 percent, for Yahoo over last year, while Google dropped 3 points, or 3.7 percent.
"The idea is to become the gateway to the Internet," says Freed. "Some [sites] try search, some try portal.
"Yahoo is emerging as the leading portal," he says.
The survey's shift reflects Yahoo's success with new portal services such as its revamped Web mail, Freed says, rather than any sea change with search. While Google is still the undisputed champ for searches, he says it hasn't done a good job of promoting its many additional features, such as a personalized iGoogle page or Google Maps enhancements.
"The average consumer that goes to Google today doesn't see anything different than from three years ago," Freed says.
That lack of obvious change may also contribute to Google's two-point decline in its satisfaction score since the ACSI began evaluating the company in 2002. By contrast, Yahoo has climbed five points since 2000, when the e-business scoring began.
While significant, the shift by no means spells major trouble for Google, Freed says. Google's successful Adwords service and planned acquisition of advertising company DoubleClick means that the company "can afford small slips as long as it addresses the underlying the issues, which are making enhancements and improvements that the majority of users can benefit from and enjoy," he says.
Yahoo's improvement, on the other hand, may signal a rosier financial future for the company than its somewhat rocky recent history, Freed says.
The other success story from this year's ratings is Ask.com, which enjoyed a healthy 4-point increase to 75 in its satisfaction score. Though its market share for search engine traffic remains small -- 3.2 percent, compared to Google's 64.4 percent, according to a July 2007 Hitwise report -- its 5.6 percent improvement was the largest for major e-business sites this year.
MSN held steady at 75, a one-point increase over last year. Its score has been either 74 or 75 for the last five years. That lack of movement may be a disadvantage, Freed says, with Ask.com potentially poised to overtake it as the third-ranked search engine.
The big loser this year is AOL, whose seven-point decline to 67 represents a 9.5 percent drop from last year. That rock-bottom satisfaction score is only two points higher than that of the IRS (from another ACSI report).
The ACSI survey calculates scores based on responses from about 70,000 people to questions such as "Overall, how satisfied are you with the experience on the Web site?" and "How does it compare to your ideal experience?" The responses are weighted and computed to determine the final score.