Google, Yahoo top US e-business survey

Google and Yahoo ranked at the top on customer satisfaction at e-business Web sites, according to a report that measures search engines, portals and online news and information sites.

Overall customer satisfaction with e-business has climbed 4.7 percent since 2004 to 75.9 on the 100-point scale of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, according to ForeSee Results, a sponsor of the ACSI, which is produced by the University of Michigan.

Google, with its roots as a search engine, is No. 1 in the e-business category, with a score of 82, and it has remained No. 1 since 2002, said Larry Freed, online satisfaction expert and CEO of ForeSee. Yahoo is a close second, with a score of 80. MSN came in at 75, Ask Jeeves at 72 and America Online at 71, he said.

"So Google and Yahoo have established themselves in this category over the last couple of years, and they continue to maintain it. That's not a surprise when you look at their financial growth. Over the last couple of years, they're revenue has more than doubled," Freed said.

"When you look at AOL and MSN, their revenue is basically flat or there was just a very slight gain," he said. "We see them trailing in satisfaction, and that's not a coincidence."

Freed said that e-business companies that do a great job satisfying consumers will also do well financially.

"It's a lot more cost-effective to keep customers than to always have to go get new customers," he said.

Each of these companies has a unique strength, Freed said. Google's strength, for example, is search.

"That's the core of what they do, but they're building a lot of things out from search, in terms of Froogle, Gmail, desktop search, for example," Freed said. "So they're starting to really compete across the many different places that a portal exists, but it all started from search and the great credibility they have in that arena.

"Yahoo's strength is, and continues, to be the wide-ranging services that it offers, including its stores and mail, and now music," he said. "Yahoo continues to be on the leading edge of offering new services through the portal.

"MSN is not in the same level of leadership with Google and Yahoo," Freed continued. "MSN's greatest strength is, to a great extent, Microsoft and the desktop, but they don't seem to have taken great advantage of that as an interface to the Internet."

While AOL has done a great job of improving customer satisfaction, it still has a long way to go, Freed said.

"AOL is still 11 points behind Google and nine behind Yahoo," he said. "AOL's potential strength is in its content, and in the past they haven't done a good job of taking advantage of that, but [they] seem to be getting better at it."

Like AOL, improving customer satisfaction seems to be paying off for Ask Jeeves, according to Freed. But the test for Ask Jeeves will be to leverage the resources of its new parent company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, which is also the parent of Ticketmaster and HSN Interactive, he said.

Customer satisfaction with news and information sites remains relatively flat, scoring 75 for the second year in a row, Freed said.

"Web browsers have taken a stronger liking to smaller players, as 'all others' leads this category, with 78," he said. "Leading brands like ABCNews.com, with a score of 74, and CNN.com, with a score of 72, saw their scores stay flat or even go down a little."

Freed said there is no clear winner in the news and information market because none of the sites has figured out a way to differentiate itself from its rivals.

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