Yahoo tops Google in customer satisfaction

But don't count out Ask.com, the survey's author says

For the first time, Yahoo has replaced Google as the number one portal of choice, according to a customer satisfaction survey released Tuesday.

Yahoo's score is up 4 percent to 79 on the 100-point scale of the annual University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) on e-business Web sites. While Yahoo's stock among users is rising, Google's is on the wane, according to the report. Google fell 3.7 percent to 78, the second time in as many years that its score declined.

The results indicate a battle brewing between the two Internet giants.

Yahoo is emerging as the leading portal, fighting Google and losing for the search business, while Google is the leader in search, fighting Yahoo and losing dominance as a portal, said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, which sponsors the ACSI report, in a statement.

"Even more important than Yahoo's first lead over Google is the trend of their scores moving in opposite directions," Freed said. "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."

"Yahoo is pleased with the results of this year's ACSI study, which reflect our continued efforts to enhance the consumer experience for our more than 500 million users of Yahoo-branded properties around the world," said Yahoo spokeswoman Meagan Busath. "We believe that this trend will continue as we further leverage our user insights, continue to open up the Yahoo network, and solidify our position as the partner of choice for advertisers, publishers and developers."

"We are continually working to provide the best online experience for our users and welcome strong competition that helps drive market innovation," said a Google spokeswoman in a statement via e-mail.

For Yahoo to gain ground on Google in search, Yahoo would have to develop an "incredible and far more effective search technology," which seems unlikely because of the investments the companies have already made in search technology, Freed said in the statement.

In search, Google should worry about Ask.com, Freed said.

Up 5.7 percent in its rating from last year to score 75, Ask.com rang up this year's biggest increase in its ranking, while AOL.com posted the biggest decline, down more than 9 percent to 67, Freed said.

"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."

Google could also be challenged by a new or still unknown search company, or a niche company such as GlobalSpec, which provides a search engine for engineers, he said.

The survey also looked at online news and information sites, rating ABCNews.com and MSNBC.com with scores of 74; CNN.com, 73; NYTimes.com, 73 and USAToday.com, 72. There was no clear standout in the news category because all the sites are struggling to differentiate themselves and pull away from the pack, Freed said.

In the e-business category, overall customer satisfaction was down for the first time this year, dipping more than a point to 75.2, lower than the ACSI national average score of 75.3 across all industries and also lower than the latest average score of 80 posted by e-commerce companies, the survey found.

The annual ACSI survey calculates scores based on responses from about 70,000 people to questions about their experiences on Web sites of various e-business companies.

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Linda Rosencrance

Computerworld

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