Quality Stays Top Search Issue for Consumers

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Search quality remains most important for users of Google, Yahoo and other search engines, despite their entry into numerous new areas in the past year.

In its annual study of 2,000 consumers' searching habits, Keynote Systems, San Mateo, CA, found that Ask Jeeves showed the largest increase in consumers' perception of general search quality during the past year, while MSN showed the most improvement in the past six months.

Still, Google and Yahoo were the top-ranked engines based on customer experience, followed by Ask Jeeves, MSN Search and AOL Search. AOL's strongest performance was in the news search and product search categories.

Consumers who took part in the "Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Search Engine Sites" said Ask Jeeves improved its general search quality by reducing the number of sponsored results at the top of the page.

MSN's search results are very up to date, consumers said, and they liked how the engine presents its sponsored results.

"MSN was the only site to show improvement in the perception of its results being up to date," according to the study.

Google outranked its competitors on 13 "business success factors" measured in the study, including general search quality, local search quality and image search quality.

In local search and image search, though, Yahoo's customer experience ranked very close to Google's. Eighty-two percent of Yahoo users reported success when searching for local services and information compared with 83 percent of Google users.

"Google continues its dominance, but Yahoo is more competitive in the newer categories, such as local and image search," said Donny Brown, director of research and public services for Keynote. "As these new categories gain in popularity and usage, this may offer an opportunity for Yahoo to close the gap with Google."

Though image search functions have not been around long, consumers seem very aware of them: 63 percent of Yahoo users and 56 percent of Google users said they go to the image search areas of those sites when they need to find an image.

But only 28 percent of Google users and 39 percent of Yahoo users turn to the sites' local search function. In addition, the study found "significantly less" consumer demand for the special product search function on all the major sites.

Christine Blank covers online marketing and advertising, including e-mail marketing and paid search, for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters

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