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Google is the preferred search engine for users
January 20, 2006
A study from Keynote Systems revealed the results of a detailed search engine user experience survey. Google received the highest marks. The results are posted below with our comments in BLUE.
Summary of results:
- Yahoo!, a Strong Second, Most Competitive with Google in Local & Image Search
- Ask Jeeves Jumps in Brand Perceptions When Consumers Try its Site and Improves in Search Quality
- MSN Improving in General Search Quality & Presentation of Sponsored Results
- AOL's Strength Lies with its Subscriber Base
- Fourth Wave of Keynote Study Offers In Depth Look at Key Success Factors
There is continued leadership and improvement of Google and Yahoo! in the search engine industry as search companies continue to further expand their services in areas such as image and local search.
The Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Search Engine Sites is based on an examination of 2,000 consumers as they searched and performed relevant tasks on the AOL Search, Ask Jeeves, Google, MSN Search, and Yahoo! Search sites. Keynote also performed the first ever service level study examining the responsiveness and reliability of the leading search engine sites. This is Keynote's second year studying the search engine industry and the first to examine the online consumer experience with image and news searches. The study was conducted over a two-week period in late October 2005.
"Google is still king of the Web when it comes to search, and wins consumers' praise in relatively new search categories, such as image search, and continues to perform well in the more established search categories,' said Dr. Bonny Brown, director of research and public services for Keynote. "Despite active competitive maneuverings, Google's challengers have yet to break the leader's grip on consumers' affections, although each of the search engines has their own loyal following. The clear appeal of Google's homepage, as well as its presentation of sponsored ads and the overall usefulness of its ads continue to be important factors in Google's continuing success."
This is especially true when considering the recent struggles of the search results with Yahoo! and MSN Search - Google's two biggest rivals. It is clear, that while Yahoo! has the most experience, in terms of time, in search, it is taking major steps backwards and user's experience have been very frustrating in the last few weeks.
For the fourth consecutive wave of the Keynote study, Google topped the Keynote Customer Experience Rankings, an aggregate ranking of leading search engines based on an analysis of 250+ metrics measured during the study. In fact, Google outperformed its competitors in all 13 business success drivers measured in the study, including those for general search quality, local search quality and image search quality.
Yahoo! Search ranked second in the study, Ask Jeeves third, MSN fourth and AOL's public site ranked fifth. The study ranked the public sites of each search engine in 13 different categories based on their performance with the general Internet population. The AOL Search subscriber site, the site dedicated to its subscribers, was also tested, and would have ranked third in these rankings. In fact, all search sites perform better with their frequent or regular users. However, only AOL has a separate site for those regular users, thus for comparison purposes only the AOL public site was ranked.
Keynote Customer Experience Rankings
Yahoo! demonstrated its staying power in the latest study, holding its ground with Google, and posting a clear lead over its other competitors. Yahoo! remains in second place across 12 customer experience drivers measured by Keynote, including those for general and local search quality. However, Yahoo! performs most competitively with Google in the local and image search categories. When searching for local services or information, 82% of Yahoo! users reported task success, as compared to 83% of Google users, and 66% of Yahoo! users were very satisfied with their search as compared to 71% of Google users.
It should be noted here that while Yahoo! makes impressive strides in this study, this was done before they made very poor changes to their algorithm which, in turn, made the SERPs very questionable. We have received a record number of inquiries over the last two weeks concerning the results of Yahoo! and how they contain Spam, unrelated results, and duplicate results.
"Google continues its dominance, but Yahoo! is more competitive in the newer categories such as local and image search," said Brown. "As these new categories gain in popularity and usage, this may offer an opportunity for Yahoo! to close the gap with Google."
As stated above, the current results in local search and image search show that Yahoo! has regressed.
Industry experts expect such new areas of search to help drive even greater usage of search sites in the future. In the last few years all five of the major sites have introduced "local" and "image" search tabs on the main navigation bars of their sites.
Image search appears to have caught on quite quickly with consumers, with 63% of Yahoo! users and 56% of Google users turning to the image search areas of those sites when searching for an image. There is less awareness and usage of the local search tabs, with just 28% of Google users and 39% of Yahoo! users in the study turning to the local search function when conducting a local search although there is great appreciation for Google's integrated local search results. There is significantly less consumer demand for the special product search functionality on all leading sites.
Because of this, it is recommended that you exclude your IMAGES folder in the robots.txt file in order to keep the image spiders out. Image search is done mostly by "hijackers" who are looking to use copyrighted images without permission. Unless you are in the porn industry, monetizing your site through an image search is a very difficult process.
General search quality still has the greatest impact on the user experience for search engines. Ask Jeeves showed the largest increase in general search quality over the last year, while MSN had the largest improvement in this area in the past six months.
MSN has the largest improvement? That statement is rather laughable, as the only had one way to go, and that was up! Their search has been horrendous, and their market share is reflective of that. Microsoft has learned, the hard way, that search wasn't as easy as the engineers told Gates it was.
Even though Ask Jeeves is showing increases, their market share does not reflect these improvements and they are still an engine we do not recommend targeting due to their lack of market share.
As reported in previous Keynote studies, despite the difference in perceived quality of search results, actual search quality differs little among the primary search engines. The latest Keynote study reconfirms those previous findings, and again demonstrates that Google and Yahoo! generate much of their satisfaction from additional factors aside from actual search quality.
The difference between the sites in terms of customer experience and customer satisfaction among their regular or primary users is relatively small as compared to the wide differences between the competitors among new users or infrequent users who do not have a primary search engine. For instance, among new and infrequent search engine users, 82% of those sent to search on Google were "very satisfied" with their experience, as compared to 53% "very satisfied" with their experience on MSN. However, among their regular or primary users, Google received a 92% satisfaction rate and MSN receives an 84% satisfaction rate.
I am very suspect of these results, as a "regular" or "primary" user should understand what is Spam - and MSN is litered with it. How can you be "very satisfied' with a Spam filled SERP?
Can this be due to the vast majority of AOL users believe that AOL is the Internet and nothing exists outside of it?
Once users gain familiarity with a search site, their satisfaction and perceptions of that site tend to improve. All sites in the study saw improvements in their brand perceptions with new or infrequent users once those users had conducted several searches on their site. Ask Jeeves received the greatest jump in brand perceptions once new or infrequent users had searched on their site.
This is probably due to Ask Jeeves has the worst design layout of the major search engines. Once you get used to it and know where to look, you understand things better. I wouldn't say that is a positive report.
Despite the variances based on frequency of use, Google is the clear leader in Internet search and Yahoo! the clear number two search site across all types of users, and among the general Internet population.
Ask Jeeves showed improvement in the perceptions of its general search results by reducing the number of sponsored results at the top of the page. MSN's strongest performance was in the user perception of its search results as being up to date, and the presentation of its sponsored results. In fact, MSN was the only site to show improvement in the perception of its results being up to date. AOL's strongest performance was in the news search and product search categories, as well as in the special features category, and was driven primarily by the success of its subscriber search site.