Google Dethroned By 'All Other' Category

Google may own the market for paid-search advertising and queries, but when it comes to customer satisfaction the Mountain View, Calif. company took a back seat to smaller competitors in the space this year, according to a research study.

Smaller engines like Dogpile, GoodSearch, MyPoints, and Swagbucks barely nudged out Google by two points, taking the No. 1 spot, according to ForeSee Results, which plans to release findings from this year's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey that analyzes customer satisfaction for companies in search, news and information -- and for the first time, social media.

Since ForeSee Results began ranking search engines in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) index eight years ago, Google led in customer satisfaction for each year except 2007, when Yahoo temporarily took over the No. 1 spot. Now the golden search engine has moved into the No. 2 spot once again.

The "All Others" category pulled in 82 points; followed by Google with 80; Bing, 77; Yahoo, 76; MSN, 75; AOL, 74; and Ask, 73.

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The report suggests that Google may suffer from trying to please all with a variety of applications. Evidence resides in the "All Others" category of niche players. In fact, when asked what they like least about Google, survey respondents mentioned advertising, overwhelming search results, privacy concerns, and too many special features like maps and shopping.

Consumers may have become less satisfied with Google -- but the search engine has the most loyal following, with 80% of its users citing it as their primary search engine. AOL users are the oldest in age, while Yahoo users are the youngest. Thirty percent of the Google users surveyed report having used Bing in the last month, while 56% of the Bing users surveyed report having used Google in the last month.

"Bing came in at a formidable place and it seems will become a formidable competitor," said Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer at ForeSee Results.

When it comes to social media, one of the most popular U.S. Web sites is not the most loved, according to the customer satisfaction index. The study's social media segment, which received the lowest rating -- 70 points in aggregate -- looks at Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube and all others.

Wikipedia tops the social media industry list with a score of 77 for its ease of use, and variety, depth and breadth of information. Wikipedia also receives high marks for its lack of advertising, compared with YouTube at 73, Facebook at 64, MySpace at 63, and all others at 72 in aggregate. Despite the lack of advertising, 15% of Wikipedia users seek out product recommendations.

"My guess is that Facebook users would pay $5 per month not to see any ads," said Freed. "It opens opportunities for various business models over time."

Facebook fell flat on ACSI's 100-point scale -- putting it in the bottom 5%, along with MySpace, of all measured private companies. The study doesn't measure Twitter because a disproportionate number of users access the site through third-party applications.

Despite consumers' unsatisfactory marks for Facebook, the social site still ranks high when it comes to one of the most-visited Web sites. Experian Hitwise estimates Facebook has 9% of all Web site visits, compared with Google at 7.4% and Yahoo at 3.8%. The study suggests a few reasons that it continues to have market success despite low customer satisfaction.

Among those, Facebook supports a monopoly when it comes to people connecting with friends. Overall, it also serves a younger demographic that is not concerned with privacy issues. And it appears that people will suffer through a poor experience in return for the benefits the site offers. The ACSI measures 223 companies, offline and online. Facebook and MySpace are the two lowest-scoring sites when it comes to measuring the 30 online companies.

Fox rocks in the news and information category. FOXNews.com successfully parlays its lead in the ratings into a lead in online customer satisfaction, debuting at the top with a score of 82. That's five points above nearest competitor USATODAY.com with 77. CNN.com lags with 73.

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