August 14, 2007, 12:00 AM

Yahoo, Ask.com gain in satisfied customers, as Google slips

Yahoo topped Google for the first time in the University of Michigan’s annual report on customer satisfaction at search engines and web portals. Ask.com showed the largest increase in satisfaction.

 

Yahoo topped Google for the first time in the University of Michigan’s annual report on customer satisfaction at search engines and web portals. Ask.com showed the largest increase in customer satisfaction, according to the report, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which was released today.

Yahoo, following a major site redesign about a year ago, gained six points from last year’s index for an index-leading score of 79. Google, meanwhile, slipped from 81 to 78 to rank second in the current index. Ask.com, a unit of IAC/InterActiveCorp, No. 26 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, rose 6% to a score of 75 from 71.

Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, a research and advisory firm that uses the ACSI methodology in analyzing retail and government web sites, says Yahoo’s and Ask.com’s rises in the index show that these sites have succeeded in making recent improvements widely recognized and used by visitors. “When you make major changes to a site’s look and feel of navigation, as Yahoo did, you can initially get a drop in satisfaction levels because people are unfamiliar with the new environment,” Freed says. “But as time goes on and people get used to the changes, as long they really are an improvement, customer satisfaction levels rise.”

Ask.com, he adds, showed the sharpest rise in customer satisfaction as it pulled off a redesign without any temporary drops in satisfaction. “Ask.com is making inroads on the other competitors in the portal and search engine category,” Freed says. “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.”

Google, although it continues to command the lead among search engine activity while launching new features on its web site, has been less successful in making consumers aware of its new features, Freed says. For example, Google recently introduced iGoogle, a feature that lets users create a personalized Google home page with content including news, YouTube videos, a time clock and a scrolling calendar that lets users share planned schedules with online friends. “Google has moved forward with a great set of online products, but the average person may not know that iGoogle and other products exist,” Freed says. “It may be time for Google to do a little marketing.”

Customer satisfaction levels on Yahoo, Google, Ask.com and other search-related sites can also eventually affect their images as effective search marketing tools, Freed says. If consumers experience more or less satisfaction on Google.com, Yahoo.com or Ask.com, that can affect their likelihood of clicking on an ad appearing in a Google, Yahoo or Ask.com search marketing campaign, he adds.

The index showed AOL.com with the largest year-to-year drop in satisfaction, down 9% to a score of 67, as MSN.com rose one point to 75.

 

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