Yahoo! Is the New E-Biz Satisfaction Leader
Google has lost its customer-satisfaction stronghold on the e-business market for the first time, according to the University of Michigan's latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Business Report. Google, which had been the category's frontrunner for five consecutive years, has been dethroned by rival Yahoo!, marking Yahoo!'s first-ever satisfaction victory over the search specialist. (Yahoo! topped the ACSI e-business report in 2000 and 2001, before Google was added in 2002.)
The ACSI formerly split e-business into three categories--online news and information; search engines; and portals--but has since combined the latter two, a reflection of the sector's converging offerings. Online satisfaction measurement firm ForeSee Results uses the University of Michigan's ACSI methodology, which is based on several factors such as site users' likelihood of returning to the site or recommending it to others, to determine scores based on a 100-point scale.
Yahoo!'s customer satisfaction tally (79), just barely edges past Google's (78). But even more noteworthy than Yahoo!'s displacement of Google at the top of the pile is the contrasting change in their individual fortunes, according to Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results. Yahoo!'s score grew 3.9 percent year-over-year, from 76, while Google's score dropped 3.7 percent from its 2006 score of 81, marking its second annual decline in a row.
Yahoo!, known for its portal strength, relaunched its homepage last year, making significant changes that included the incorporation of a Rich Internet Application (RIA) mail client. It has "gone through some pretty major transformation, and experienced what we call a relaunch effect," Freed says. "When you go through a major change on your site and relaunch it, especially when it's impacting the way people navigate the site, often you'll see your scores drop. If you're doing a good job in that relaunch you'll seem them rebound, and that's we've seen with Yahoo!"
Meanwhile, a major driver behind Google's drop is tied to promotion and awareness, according to Freed. He notes that Google has very strong complementary tools to its search engine, such as Google Earth and the Google portal. But "the challenge is that the average consumer doesn't know about those things, and Google doesn't really promote them very well on the homepage," he says.
Ask.com, which has strong search functionality, experienced the strongest increase of all contenders, improving its score four points to 75. The site, owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp, "had a relaunch recently, but did a phenomenal job," Freed says. "It has done a good job of keeping the simplicity, similar to Google, yet given a bit more emphasis to some of the complementary things it does."
MSN.com also scored a 75, moving up one point from last year. Freed suggests, however, that the Microsoft site is still searching for a point of differentiation. Rounding out the list is AOL.com, which suffered the biggest slide this year, dropping seven points to 67. "AOL continues to stumble with its transition from a subscription-based service to a free system," Freed wrote in a statement. "But AOL has proven to be incredibly tenacious as it has gone through a transition that no other company has made and survived."
Overall, the e-business sector suffered its first-ever satisfaction skid since the ACSI started evaluating the category in 2000, dropping 1.7 percent to a sector score of 75.2. That score also represents the first time in three years that the e-business sector's satisfaction mark has fallen below, albeit just slightly, the ACSI national average across all industries evaluated (75.3). (The ACSI draws a distinction between e-business and e-commerce, and assesses them in separate reports. In ACSI's view, e-commerce includes online retail, brokerage, travel, and auction sites.)
The e-business category's satisfaction drop can be largely attributed to rising consumer expectations, according to Freed. "On the Internet we expect more, so these standards that consumers are holding it to are getting it higher and higher each year," he says, adding that a mark of 75 and above is "a very good score--but there's still a lot of room for improvement."
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