Google Gets Lowest Score Ever In Customer Satisfaction Survey

google-bing-yahoo-logosThere’s a mystery surrounding the latest customer satisfaction numbers released by ForeSee Results (for the American Customer Satisfaction Index [ACSI]). Published late last night, they indicate the lowest levels of consumer satisfaction with search engines (and portals) since 2003.

The satisfaction scores for social sites are worse.

According to the survey, which ranks sites on a 100 point scale, Google received its worst score (77) since the inception of the survey more than a decade ago. Google’s score last year was 82. This year Bing and Yahoo both received scores of 76, which are lower than in 2012 as well. The category average was 76. AOL fared worst with a 71 score.

Customer satisfaction search 2013

Source: ForSee Results/ACSI (2013)   

The explanation offered for the low scores is that “advertising is diminishing the customer experience, especially among search engines.” ForeSee juxtaposes advertising and the customer experience. But this doesn’t entirely make sense in the context of search advertising, unless there’s been a marked decline in the relevance of search ads (or a marked increase in the number of ads on the page).

According to the survey, “22 percent of search engine visitors cited advertisements as what they liked least about the site.”

ForSee results and the ACSI assert that these satisfaction scores are predictive of future consumer behavior and market share. While that may be true for traditional industries and brands, that logic has not played out in the e-business category. Past gains by search engines other than Google have not translated into market share gains. And since there was a decline in the 2013 scores across the board we can similarly expect little or no change in market share resulting from these scores.

search loyalty

Source: ForSee Results/ACSI (2013)   

One of the more interesting findings of the survey concerns search loyalty. Those using sites other than Google as primary search engines saw a decline in 2013. This may well be the most significant search-related finding of the survey:

The number of people who use Google exclusively for search has stayed consistent, while the proportion of exclusive users of other search engines has declined since last year. Search engines not named Google experienced an average drop of 30% in primary users (those who identify the site as their primary search engine). Google dropped only 6%. Still, it seems that consumers are shopping around for search more than they have in the past.

ForeSee found that satisfaction scores for social media sites were even lower than search engines. Indeed the company said, “The category scores dropped a point to 68, putting social media on par with airlines, and rating better than only subscription TV service and ISPs.”

Social media satisfaction

Source: ForSee Results/ACSI (2013)

Google+ had higher satisfaction scores than Twitter and Facebook, which both saw slight gains vs. last year. However Google+ experienced a massive satisfaction decline compared with its 2012 scores. In this category, two satisfaction scores have not translated into usage gains or losses historically. Pinterest saw the biggest gains of the category, improving from a 69 to a 72 in 2013.

Perhaps the source of the thesis that ads are driving down satisfaction scores, ForeSee found that large numbers of users on social media sites simply ignore ads or find them annoying. In the chart below, majorities of survey respondents said they “don’t pay attention” to ads on these sites — the average was 60 percent across the category.

Ads on social media

Source: ForSee Results/ACSI (2013)

Among all the social sites in the survey users seemed to notice or pay attention to ads on Google+ most and least on LinkedIn. In addition, 27 percent of Facebook user-respondents said that ads “interfere with my experience” on the site. But because there’s no historical data we can’t evaluate whether the numbers are improving or getting worse.

The big and rather bland takeaway from these e-business satisfactions scores is that site owners and publishers must pay constant attention to user satisfaction and should make ads as relevant and engaging as possible.

The ACSI was created by the University of Michigan but ForSee Results administers the “e-business” component of the index.

Postscript: Below are the ACSI search satisfaction scores essentially since measurement began and for the past five years. There were no scores for Bing until 2010.

ACSI scores search

Last five years ACSI score search

Related Topics: AOL: General | Channel: Consumer | Facebook | Google | Google: Business Issues | Microsoft | Microsoft: Bing | Stats | Stats: General | Stats: Popularity | Top News | Yahoo | Yahoo: Business Issues

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.blindfiveyearold.com AJ Kohn

    I think the advertising explanation is tremendously weak. Instead, I’d offer that the frequency of search is rising (those strange comScore numbers) and that they’re being performed on different devices (phones and tablets).

    High expectations of search success coupled with greater frequency of searches on a variety of devices would likely frustrate a subset of users.

    We expect search to work, we use it more often and for more types of searches (which increases the potential for failure) and we do so on different form factors that might make them less digestible.

  • klippers

    I personally think the black hatters out there are slowly winning the war with the search engines. More and more junk keeps floating to the top. It sure frustrates me.

  • ScottyMack

    In my mind, all of the major search engines are failing because the first page is now dominated by the companies you already know about. Chances are, people have already been to Amazon, eBay, WalMart, or Wikipedia. They are household websites and get a ton of direct traffic.

    When I’m searching, I’m looking for relevant websites that I don’t already know about. Until the search engines get better at finding the diamonds in the rough, they serve very little purpose for me.

  • Colin Guidi

    Excerpt:

    “The explanation offered for the low scores is that “advertising is
    diminishing the customer experience, especially among search engines.”
    ForeSee juxtaposes advertising and the customer experience. But this
    doesn’t entirely make sense in the context of search advertising, unless
    there’s been a marked decline in the relevance of search ads (or a
    marked increase in the number of ads on the page).”

    The light this turns on for me, are the influx of PLAs, or Product Listing Ads. And the expansion to 16 of them…! Yea, that’ll throw a wrench in your search experience.

  • Luis

    Google numbers may reflect an increasingly annoying lack of diversity in search results.

    If I had ANY interest in any “results” from low quality cr*p machines like “about(.com)” or “ehow” I would search there in the 1st place.

    Instead, half the results are from such domains or from Wikipedia.

    Bing is now superior to Google for that very reason.

  • jnffarrell1

    Negative PR is working for Microsoft. Satisfaction with Internet search is decreasing for all Search Engines. Unfortunately Bing is being hurt, rather than helped. What the political PR crew at MS hopes attain is to hold down Internet usage. How does that help?

  • Steve

    Yeah, that and personalized search. You see the same results over and over again. You’re not discovering anything new or better. I’ve been in the SEO game for over 12 years and, I believe Google has gone backwards in terms of search priorities. Search should be about quality/relevancy; not a popularity contest.

  • Neal

    I wonder how consumers would rate their local directory experience – Yelp, Opentable, YP.com etc. It seems to point to relevancy – search and social set an early & high expectation of relevancy, now sponsored ads are overtaking the results – anyone for a subscription local search model – no ads, say 2 dollars per month?

  • pio dal cin

    I’m not surprised specially on the G+ drop. The interface was abruptly changed from last year creating a “brand new layout” on G+. The hangouts as they were before the changes were awesome, now they are less appealing than a pac-man game. Why all these changes? If you have something that works well, why would you change into something worst and more complicated to the new users?

    There are Gplussers of the first generation (before it was open to the public) wwho woul pay a monthly fee to Google if they could go back to the old layout. Google made the same mistake as Coca Cola did when they introduced the New Coca Cola.
    It was working just fine. They had to screw it up… with communities and new hangout layout…shame shame

  • Steven Graff

    Could it be search results on Google increasingly look like those you get with apps and widgets? IMO, users that want App-like results navigate to their app and use it, they navigate to a browser-based search because they have come to expect a specific type of result.

  • http://dan.tobias.name/ dtobias

    I regard any mention of “wikipedia.com” in articles to be an indicator of cluelessness of the author, since the actual site is wikipedia.org. It’s a noncommercial site.

  • cbotto2012

    Steve,
    Completely agree – this is what the search results are coming to – useless crap driven by Facebook likes!

  • Ryan Bald

    Steve, you make a great point. It is almost impossible to use Google as a research tool like I could 10 years ago in college. The results are so much more commercial and localized that it can be tough to find good in-depth and relevant information. I remember when almost any search would bring back a variety of .gov, .edu, .com and news articles. Amazing how things have changed.

  • mickrussom

    Google is a scumbag when supporting playstore hardware. Pure scum.

  • Lola Askarova

    My 5 pence worth. Share of users understanding how search engines work has grown, as have their expectations/ search needs. At the same time the share of people who use default search engines without knowing that they can change the browser settings is probably still quite high. Hence the results

  • Antreas Arkoudi

    use yahoo.com and you are OK

  • http://www.dbsit.com.au/ Asif Faridi

    frustrated user switched to yahoo and bing due to Google’s Ad promotional policy.

  • http://www.affilorama.com/ Mary Tordecilla

    So what this is really trying to say is that people aren’t as happy with Google’s search results as they used to be? That doesn’t really come as much of a surprise to me – most keywords are dominated by Wikipedia, Amazon, YouTube etc… all sites you would go to directly if you wanted to visit them.

    Perhaps Google should cut the little guy some slack, and they might get better levels of customer satisfaction.

    Mary from Affilorama.com

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/josephmaresca Joseph Maresca

    I wouldn’t be surprised if all of these additional negative surveys where produced by SEO’s and site owners who are complaining more about not being able to rank so easily than they are complaining about the search experience.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/josephmaresca Joseph Maresca

    I have to agree with Colin. There is way too much noise going on in the search results. You have videos, images, scholarly articles, paid ads (taking up more real estate than ever), pla’s, rich snippets. I understand its a business and businesses to need to make money but I think there is a fine line between having it perfect and crossing the line and I think Google crossed the line just slightly on this one. I guess they don’t have enough R&D money as they would like.

  • http://www.rankya.com.au/ rankyacomau

    Thanks for this insight Greg, it is only logical that internet citizens are becoming frustrated with the results Google brings (especially through mobile devices which almost always has Adwords in the first eye full) and also the desktop search does seem to have more and more ads shown when the searchers usually are looking for relevant results, they get Ads instead. So I think it is natural people will start to move towards others instead of big G.
    We who work online know about the Ads Google shows, but some people who search Google still doesn’t know the difference between paid Ads in results as opposed to organic results (even the organic results at times tend to be spammy) seriously.

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