According to the University of Michigan and ForeSee Results, which surveys and measures consumers' online satisfaction, Google posted the highest score in its sector since the American Consumer Satisfaction Index began its surveys 14 years ago, notching an 86. The other portals didn't fare so well. Yahoo was down 2.5% to 77, MSN remained stagnant at 75 and Ask declined 1.3% to 74. AOL rose by 3% to 69 but is still recovering from a sharp drop in satisfaction in 2007.
The report points out that consumer-satisfaction data jibes with market-share data from Hitwise. In June Google accounted for 69.2% of searches, up from the year-earlier period of 63.9%. Ask also gained while Yahoo and MSN slipped.
One reason for the big shift this year? Word of mouth about some of Google's non-search products is finally starting to pay off, said Larry Freed, president-CEO of Foresee results, who admits he was surprised by just how much Google surged in this year's survey.
"On one hand, there's a simple and basic interface to search," he said. "But Google is also known as an innovative company and has other great apps that are slowly starting to gain market share. ... As they launch these things, sometimes it takes a while until users get to know it."
But there's also a big macro shift in how consumers are using the internet. Mr. Freed points out that portals have largely the same look and feel today as they did several years ago -- yet many people have gotten comfortable using search to navigate the web.
Oh, and there's the news events of the past year. After all, PR matters too: "Satisfaction in simple terms is a combination of what you get and what you expect," Mr. Freed said. "And expectations are formed by word of mouth, advertising, media and your own experiences. That there's such positive publicity about Google, and negative publicity about Yahoo and MSN of late, isn't going to help," he said, referring to the on-again, off-again bitter acquisition talks between Yahoo and MSN parent Microsoft.
This year's results reverse a pair of trends from last year, when Yahoo rose in satisfaction on the back of a redesign and Google fell slightly. AOL started what could be the beginning of a slow ascent in terms of satisfaction but, warns the report, "with a score that is 17 points below Google's and 8 points behind the closest portal competitor Yahoo, AOL struggles to compete on any front and find its identity in a competitive industry."
So how can one ever hope to beat Google? As Mr. Freed points out, the task of search gets tougher every day with billions more pages to index. But unless there's a breakthrough technology that changes how we navigate the web, it's Google's crown to lose.