Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves have made significant gains in the perceptions of their search experiences and in their likelihood to become a users primary search site, reported Keynote Systems Inc.
Keynote, a San Mateo, Calif.-based provider of Web analytics, conducted the search study based on research with 2,000 consumers. It follows an earlier search report released in May 2004.
Google, of Mountain View, Calif., continued to rank the highest in the overall analysis of more than 250 metrics that measured everything from customer satisfaction and loyalty to the brand image and plans for future use of search engines.
"Google is holding steady and certainly not showing increases, [while] Yahoo, MSN and Ask Jeeves are showing gains," said Bonny Brown, Keynotes director of research.
Following Google in the overall Keynote rankings were Yahoo in second place, MSN in third place, Ask Jeeves in fourth place and Lycos Inc. in the fifth spot.
For all three top Google competitors, the future is looking brighter. Thats because they all made strides against Google in key indicators of future usage, Keynote found.
When it comes to the likelihood of users to return to a search site, the likelihood for Yahoo increased 9 percentage points since May to 81 percent. The same measure increased 6 percentage points to 61 percent for MSN and rose 12 percentage points to 63 percent for Ask Jeeves, Keynote reported.
A similar pattern was seen in consumers likelihood to make the sites their primary search engines. Google still led, with 84 percent of consumers likely to make it their primary site. But Yahoo jumped 11 percentage points to 61 percent in that category, while MSN increased 8 percentage points to 38 percent. Ask Jeeves also reached 38 percent, a 9 percentage point jump from May.
The shifting search numbers point to the tenuous nature of loyalty in the search market. Keynote estimates that half of consumers will turn to another search engine if their expectations are not met.
In the hotly contested local search segment, Yahoo showed strength. All of the major engines, except Microsoft Corp.s MSN division, have launched sites in the past year for finding business listings and other geographic-specific information.
Yahoo gained enough traction in local search to tie with Google in that category of the study, according to Keynote. That gain came even as 22 percent of users complained that search engines in general are not returning relevant or well-ranked local information.
A shift in the way it deals with paid listings seemed to have paid off for MSN. In July, it reduced the number of sponsored listings appearing atop Web search results and altered design elements to better distinguish paid listings.
In the latest Keynote survey, 47 percent of users found MSNs sponsored listings to be useful, an increase of 10 percentage points from six months earlier. Keynote says the usefulness of such listings is one of five key variables in the overall user experience in search.