Google's rivals have happy customers — just not enough of them

Competitors' efforts have failed to dent Google's search market share. A survey of customer satisfaction paints a different picture — which just goes to show you that it's not, as Google likes to claim, all about the users. The newly released American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) from the University of Michigan has Yahoo regaining its lead over Google with an increase of 3.9 points, while Google fell 3.7 points. ACSI attributes the improvements to Yahoo's ratings to well-received design and feature enhancements. Ask.com experienced the biggest improvement, jumping 5.6 points, leaving it tied with Microsoft's MSN.

ACSI researchers attributed Ask.com's gains to its visual presentation and more advanced integration of topic-specific search results. Meanwhile, Google's basic, utilitarian design — the hallmark of its appeal in the past — has become stale and in need of a refresh, analysts suggest.

It's all well and good to try to dissect reasons for the gains and losses in customer satisfaction. But unlike, say, the car industry, where ACSI scores are closely watched and touted in marketing, it's hard to discern any connection between ACSI's measures of customer satisfaction and the Web companies' market success. Web users choose search engines more by habit than anything else, and the Googling habit is well-ingrained. And advertisers make ad buys based on traffic and results, not customer satisfaction, making these results little more than a feather in the also-rans' caps. (Table from American Customer Satisfaction Index)