Study: Google Tops in Brand Loyalty

Google ranks the highest in consumer loyalty among online brands, according to a recent study by consultancy Brand Keys.

The findings, based on biannual surveys of about 16,000 Web-using adults, found that Google users were more satisfied with it than users of other online brands were with their choices. On Brand Keys’ Index, designed to rank relative customer loyalty and based on a mean of 100, Google scored a 119.

With 116, e-tail giant came in second, followed by Web portal Yahoo! at 116, Charles Schwab’s online brokerage at 114, and search engine HotBot, with 114. Users of Microsoft’s ‘s MSN portal ranked it tenth, with 113, and AOL Time Warner’s America Online came in sixteenth, at 109.

Google also held the No. 1. spot a year ago, while Yahoo! came in second. In 2000, Yahoo! was on top, followed by HotBot.

New York-based Brand Keys’ President, Robert Passikoff, said many of the shifts in the five-year-old study’s rankings come as a result of the effort that companies expend in attracting and pleasing users and customers — efforts that often tend to wane as companies look to cut costs in tight economic environments.

In addition to simply charting shifts in user satisfaction and loyalty, the Brand Keys Index also has the alarming tendency to be highly predictive — at the 95 percent confidence level — of which way companies’ sales and income go over the next 18 to 24 months.

“It’s a leading indicator of profitability, or at least of usage of a site relative to other sites,” Passikoff said. “We have kind of a mantra around here in terms about customer loyalty being a leading indicator of profitability — after all, what else are you in business to do? It’s what you need to be able to do if you’re going to be profitable, since it’s often seven to 10 times more costly to bring in new customers than keep old ones.”

Customers reported they generally were most pleased with the service provided by search engines and books/music e-tailers. They were less satisfied with online travel firms, among which Expedia alone appeared in the top-20 Internet brands.

Except for Google, Charles Schwab and Expedia, none of the 28 online brands surveyed in the study met or exceeded users’ overall satisfaction levels for their business categories. For example, Internet users gave the overall search engine market a score of 118 — so that Google came off slightly better than consumers’ overall view of search engines, while Yahoo! came in slightly below.

But because only a few points separated Google and the other category leaders from the overall category rankings, the data suggests that the leaders don’t stand out that significantly. As a result, Passikoff said room exists in every online business category for savvy competitors to seize the limelight — or to quickly fall out of favor.

Consumers’ overall view of a business category “describes what they expect from a particular brand, and how they compare brands in the category,” Passikoff said. “The No. 1 we used to look at was AOL, but now, it’s in the middle. It’s at a respectful 109, but I’d see that clearly there were weaknesses. [Consumers’ overall category view] is much higher than that.”

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