Yahoo, Google, and the Search Satisfaction Myth

I have written here before about the myth of better search. Short of psychically guessing my search intent, and/or connecting electrodes directly to brain so that search results can scrolls, heads-up style, across my retina, it’s not clear to me anymore what materially “better” means.

The preceding is why I was briefly puzzled by a survey today claiming that Yahoo had surpassed Google in search Customer Satisfaction. How could that be?, I wondered. Not that Google is perfect, of course, because it isn’t, but had Yahoo somehow found a way to be meaningfully better at search than Google? And more importantly, if Yahoo searchers were more satisfied than Google searchers, how come Google was so far ahead of Yahoo in search usage, at least judging by ComScore stats?

To begin to answer the question, here are the underlying numbers: On the survey’s 100-point scale, Google scored 78, Yahoo 79, and Ask and MSN came in at 75. There were, in other words, four points separating the main search contenders, and only one point separating Google and Yahoo in satisfaction scores.

Assuming the survey method is credible — which is a leap, considering that there is nothing about survey size, sample makeup, etc. in the press release — I still have trouble with the result. A one point difference is meaningless, mere noise. Last month Google was ahead, this month Yahoo is ahead, and who knows what will happen next month. It’s just noise among searchers who wouldn’t know better search if it spidered them, doubly do when it’s demonstrably uncorrelated with search engine usage.


  1. This just backs up your initial statement. All search players are good enough that it’s difficult to discern the difference anymore.

  2. I think the trend is more important – Google being down around 4% while Yahoo! is up around 4%. Also, I thought the sites were being looked at as portals, not simply as search engines.

  3. my only problem with getting the right search results is when I don’t know exactly what it is I’m searching for. Then I ask my wife, she tells me, and I google it with success.
    So when one of them can, ahem, replace my wife, that’s when I’ll have improved search results.

  4. It’s all about press release writing. Saying that Yahoo overtakes Google will get your press release picked up. (see: this blog post.) Include the words “Google” or “iPhone” in your press release and someone will write about it.
    Note later in the release:
    In addition to measuring portals and search engines, the annual e-business report measures news and information sites (74), (74), (73), (73) and (72).
    “There is no clear winner in the news and information space, as all of the sites have difficulty in differentiating themselves from the pack and leveraging the unique personalities that exist in their traditional channels,” said Freed.