The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released the results of its annual e-business report earlier this week, a category which covers Internet news and information as well as Internet portals and search engines. While customer satisfaction remained relatively stable for the Internet portals and search engine companies, Internet news and information took a high, with most dropping at least one percentage point-ABCNews.com took the brunt of the decline with a four-percentage-point drop from 75 on a 100-point scale in the second quarter of last year to 71 this year.
In this year's e-business report, companies evaluated were:
Internet News & Information:
- USAToday.com.................74, up from 73 in Q2 of 2008.
- MSNBC.com....................73, down from 76;
- NYTimes.com..................73, down from 75;
- ABCnews.com.................71, down from 75; and
- CNN.com........................71, down from 73;
Internet Portals & Search Engines:
- Google.............86, no change compared to Q2 of 2008;
- Yahoo!.............77, no change;
- MSN................75, no change;
- Ask.com...........74, no change; and
- AOL.................70, up from 69.
The most impressive scores this year came from Google, holding steady with a score of 86 (The ACSI's threshold for excellence in customer satisfaction is 80). According to Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results, a research firm that uses the ACSI methodology, the gap Google has established between itself and the rest of the market is astounding. "If [Google] continues with this gap in the satisfaction level of visitors, [even if] Yahoo! and MSN are able to maintain their satisfaction levels, it'll be with declining market share," Freed says. In fact, in 2007, Yahoo! briefly surpassed Google with a satisfaction score of 79 and 78 respectively. Therefore, he adds, "it gives credence to the decision of Yahoo! and MSN to try to get together [on] Bing to make a dent in that."
Even with a search engine like Bing, however, Freed is skeptical that the Yahoo! or MSN will be able to have enough to overtake Google. A large part of Google's success isn't solely based on the quality of its search results. An independent, online experiment by Michael Kordahi, a developer evangelist for Microsoft, asks visitors to type in a search, for which three sets of results will appear. Visitors are then asked to vote on which set of results they like best. "The goal of this site is simple," Kordahi writes, "we want to see what happens when you remove the branding from search engines. How differently will you perceive the results?"
Freed acknowledges that with search engines, in addition to results, perception significantly impacts the overall experience. "Search is one of those things that if people use it," he says, "they use it a lot." For Bing, going forward will not only require high quality search results, but ultimately increasing up the hype and marketing of the engine to grow market share.
Google, of course, will have to keep innovating if it wants to maintain its stronghold on the market and remain the top destination for both buyers and sellers. Freed commends the company for its slow and steady growth in its other products as well, such as Gmail and Google Maps. "The biggest challenge [for Google] is nothing we know about today," Freed says. "Bng could be a serious competitor to [Google's] growth in terms of market share, but you can have growth in this industry without growing market share, too."
The news arm of e-business took a hit this year as companies tried to respond to dramatic changes in how consumers getting their daily dose of information. "This category has historically had a difficult time differentiating amongst each other," Freed says. Moreover, as a category overall, the sites continue struggling with translating their traditional personalities - whether it's television broadcast or newspaper print - in the online space. The sites that will succeed in this space, he says, will be "those that do a good job of taking newspaper content and make it into an online site, as opposed to taking newspaper and just making it available online."
Local papers are undoubtedly taking a hit and in response, are cutting everywhere from the amount of content published to delivery frequency. As a result, Freed says, "it's really changing how people get information.... People are now looking for that replacement to the morning newspaper and the challenge is that it forces [sites] into a national news scope." USAToday.com was the only site to see an increase in customer satisfaction this year, a feat Freed attributes to the site's usability while also maintaining its "personality."
(Expectations, too, may have played a role: Consumers of The New York Times may hold the company's Web site to higher standards than those who typically turn to USA Today.)
USAToday.com also recently enjoyed a 200 percent increase in market share, according to the report, but still ranks fourth overall among those measured, ahead of ABCNews.com.
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