Yahoo may be lagging behind rival Google in terms of search engine market share and advertising revenue, but for the first time its users gave its services overall a better rating than what Google received, according to the annual University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The survey asks a sample of consumers to rate their experiences with portals and search engines on a 100 point scale, based on a number of criteria. Google has always lead the index ever since it was included in 2002, however, its rating fell about 3.7 percent to 78 points while Yahoo's customer satisfaction score rose 3.9 percent from a year ago to 79.

"A number of design changes and enhancements are paying off paying off for Yahoo! in higher customer satisfaction, which will be critical to turning around this year's lackluster financials," said Claes Fornell, a business professor at the University of Michigan who heads up the index. ongoing efforts to innovate in search are starting to pay off, as the search engine recorded the largest jump with a 5.6 percent rise from a year ago to 75 points. Meanwhile, AOL's customer satisfaction ratings plunged 9.5 percent. Of course, Ask is not even close to overtake Google in the search market, but an increase in customer satisfaction is likely to have a positive impact in their market share too.

While the study doesn't correlate satisfaction data with search market share, the scores provide a predictive look at future consumer loyalty and behavior, according to Larry Freed, President and CEO of ForeSee Results, suggesting Ask and Yahoo are on the right track. Google, on the other hand, should see this data as an early warning to avoid potential market share losses in the future.