News Sites Beat Search Engines in Customer Satisfaction

A respected customer satisfaction index reports that users are happier with news and information sites than search engines or portals -- and predicts the demise of several laggards.

The University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) measures user attitudes in 35 industries, including nearly 200 companies and government agencies, ranging from traditional retail to hotels to government agencies like the IRS.

With the release of its most recent report, the ACSI is now measuring customer satisfaction with three of the most heavily used web services -- news and information sites, portals and search engines.

The survey ranks satisfaction on a scale of 1-100. Search engines and portals both had an overall score of 68, while the industry score for news and information sites was 73. The composite numbers mask a wide range of scores among individual companies, however.

In search engines, the differences between what ACSI calls "the largest competitors" are vast. Google registers a score of 80 -- more than 30% better than Alta Vista (61) and Ask Jeeves (62). Satisfaction with portal sites show a similar divergence, with Yahoo scoring 76 and Microsoft's MSN at 72, while AOL remains a laggard at 59.

The report says that such a difference among competitors is extremely rare and is usually limited to evolving industries. And based on historical evidence, the future looks bleak for the services with low scores.

According to University of Michigan Business School Professor Claes Fornell, who wrote the analysis of the findings, companies with scores as low as AltaVista, Ask Jeeves and AOL are rarely sustainable in competitive markets: either there is improvement or the company is forced to leave the market, unless, of course, it has significant monopoly power.

In contrast to the wide divergence between search engine and portal competitors, there is not much difference among the news and information Web sites covered in the survey. The industry score is 73, with in a slight lead at 74 and and lagging slightly at 71.

How do these scores compare with other, more traditional businesses? Unfortunately, not too well. While Google's score of 80 sounds impressive, 80 is also the composite score for the entire automotive industry, and falls short of the composite score for household appliances (82). Both Buick and Maytag outperforming the web search leader suggests there is still significant room for improvement in what the ACSI calls the "e-business" sector.

Going forward, the ACSI will issue e-business reports twice each year. The current report focuses on information-oriented e-business websites; in six months, a report will be released on the performance of transaction-oriented e-commerce sites.

ACSI News, Portals and Search Engine Scores
Scores for all companies evaluated in the ACSI survey, with data on some firms going back to 1995.

ACSI Commentary by Professor Claes Fornell
Analysis of the ACSI scores, with commentary on the implications and future trends suggested by the findings.

NPD Search and Portal Site Study
Findings from an older study that measured search success and failure rates, among other factors.

Jupiter Media Metrix Search Engine Ratings
Jupiter Media Metrix's quantitative measurements for the major search services as of March 2002.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Online marketing news
Latest Anti-Spam Weapon: Poetry?... Aug 20 2002 12:47PM GMT
Tech latest
Group warns of massive EU surveillance...
CNET Aug 20 2002 12:47PM GMT
Online portals news
Yahoo drops fees on payment service...
ZDNet Aug 20 2002 8:51AM GMT
Online search engines news
Searching leads back to Google...
San Francisco Chronicle Aug 20 2002 7:14AM GMT
Online marketing news
Spam filters can delete legitimate email... Aug 20 2002 5:40AM GMT
Study: Some Big Brands Get Domain Name Marketing...
Internet News Aug 19 2002 11:43PM GMT
ReplayTV User Lawsuit Can Proceed...
Internet News Aug 19 2002 5:48PM GMT
Online search engines news
Search-Engine Marketing... Aug 19 2002 4:46PM GMT
Search engines own up to paid-for results... Aug 19 2002 2:37PM GMT
Top internet stories
Virtual library archives 9/11 emails...
CNN Aug 19 2002 2:12PM GMT
Internet: international news
New charge for website placement 'excessive'...
IDGNet New Zealand Aug 19 2002 2:05PM GMT
Online legal issues news
Record Labels Sue Internet Providers Over Site...
New York Times Aug 19 2002 11:13AM GMT
Online search engines news
Search works to clean up its act...
CNET Aug 19 2002 11:13AM GMT
powered by

About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.