Is Google Inc. losing its edge?
The search engine juggernaut was overtaken for the first time by rival Yahoo Inc. in a University of Michigan customer satisfaction survey scheduled for release today.
Consumers gave Google a score of 78 out of a possible 100 points, down three points from last year. It was the first time Google slipped below 80 points since 2002, when the company was added to the survey.
Meanwhile, Yahoo gained three points to 79 to secure the top spot.
Ask.com recorded the largest jump, while AOL's customer satisfaction ratings plunged.
Yahoo's ascent reflects consumers' impression, whether deserved or not, that Yahoo has done a better job of innovating to keep up with the times, said Larry Freed, president of ForeSee Results, which wrote an analysis of the data as a sponsor of the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Because Google's core search page has retained roughly the same simple, streamlined appearance it has had for years, consumers don't notice the Mountain View, Calif., company's new features, Freed said.
"Google has developed many services over the years, from calendar to maps, but consumers don't really know about them," Freed said. "Google needs to do a better job of telling people about its services."
For Web-based e-mail, for example, Yahoo commanded a 36% market share in the U.S. in June, while Google's much newer Gmail service had a 3% share, according to market research firm Hitwise.
Other analysts posited that the two companies' reputations also might have factored into the swing in customer satisfaction.
For many users, Yahoo is a starting place to the Internet. Over the last year, Yahoo has significantly revamped its site, which offers not just search but also e-mail, financial data, movie times and other services.
In spite of releasing dozens of new online applications, Google still is largely seen as a search engine. The company had a 52.7% share of search queries in June, compared with 20.2% for Yahoo, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
"It's just getting harder and harder to find what you're looking for on the Internet," said Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester Research. "It could be that people's search experience overall is disappointing."
That wasn't the case with IAC/InterActiveCorp's Ask.com, which jumped four points to 75 after it redid its search results page in the last few months to present more information.
"They continue to innovate their site," Freed said. "And they were rewarded with higher satisfaction."
After making solid customer-satisfaction gains each year since 2000, Time Warner Inc.'s AOL slid to 67 points from 74 last year.
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo said in a statement that it was pleased with the results, and that they reflected the company's recent efforts to keep its 500 million global users happy.
Google took its drop in stride.
"We are continually working to provide the best online experience for our users and welcome strong competition that helps drive market innovation," a company spokeswoman said.
But analysts believe the ego blow may be harder than Google lets on.
"It's very important for them to be perceived as a clear leader in innovation," Li said. "This shows that the game isn't over."