Google placed well ahead of its Internet search competitors in a recent customer-satisfaction survey, another advantage for the runaway...

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Google placed well ahead of its Internet search competitors in a recent customer-satisfaction survey, another advantage for the runaway market leader.

The University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index, released Monday, also showed Microsoft’s search-satisfaction score has been relatively flat since 2003.

“All of these sites try to find a better way for users to navigate the Web,” said Larry Freed, president and chief executive of ForeSee Results, which surveyed Internet search users for the index. “Based on not only satisfaction, but also the volume numbers and the growth, it looks as if Google is continuing to stretch that lead.”

Google scored 86 on a 100-point scale, compared with Yahoo’s 77 and Microsoft’s 75. Few companies in any industry have recorded higher scores than Google.

The results underscore the magnitude of the challenge Microsoft faces as it invests hundreds of millions in its own search engine to catch up with Google. The company moved to close the gap this year by making an unsolicited and ultimately unsuccessful offer to acquire Yahoo.

“Satisfaction is the best predictor on a go-forward basis,” said Freed, whose company helps organizations improve customer satisfaction through improvements to their online properties.

“Satisfied consumers are going to come back, be loyal and use these services more, which in turn is going to generate more revenue for these companies,” he said.

The latest scores, gathered in the second quarter, match recent market-share figures.

Google claimed 61.5 percent of June’s 11.5 billion U.S. Internet searches. Yahoo had 20.9 percent; Microsoft had 9.2, according to market researcher comScore.

Microsoft declined to comment.

ForeSee surveyed at least 250 consumers per search engine regarding their expectations, complaints, loyalty, retention, perception of quality and overall satisfaction.

The survey does not measure things such as search-results relevancy, features or other objective measures of search quality.

Microsoft has gained ground in these areas but has still struggled to gain users. One of its problems is branding, an issue CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged recently.

Google, meanwhile, has become the verb for search.

“That clearly is going to influence people’s perceptions,” Freed said. “It gives them the expectation coming in that this is the way to search. As long as Google meets that expectation, they’re going to do well.”

But there’s also still lots of room to improve the basic experience of Internet search, Freed added.

“When you think about what we get out of search, it’s just phenomenal. How did we ever manage without it?” Freed said. “On the other hand … how many times do we go searching for something and we do not get where we want to go and we end up at a bunch of garbage sites?”

That’s a sentiment Ballmer would agree with.

“Search is ripe for innovation … in user experience, natural language, semantic understanding, consumer experience,” Ballmer told financial analysts in July.

Microsoft added language describing Google’s Internet search business to the section of its most recent annual report that outlines challenges to the company’s business model.

Another Microsoft competitor described in that portion of the annual report, Apple, also did exceptionally well in the customer-satisfaction index.

Apple scored 85, 10 points over its closest rival in the personal-computer category, Dell.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com