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Only 18% of all Web Searchers Know when a Link is Advertisement
Brett_Tabke




msg:241812
 7:52 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

[usatoday.com...]

NEW YORK — Only one in sixusers of Internet search engines can tell the difference between unbiased search results and paid advertisements, a new survey finds.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported Sunday that adults online in the United States are generally naive when it comes to how search engines work.


 

bakedjake




msg:241813
 8:09 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

The telephone-based Pew study was conducted May 14-June 17 and involved 2,200 adults, including 1,399 Internet users.

What were the other 800 people?

gmiller




msg:241814
 8:16 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

The other 800 would be people who don't use the Internet. You can't just survey people who use search engines, because there's no way of identifying them before you call. So you call and ask, and you exclude them from the percentage of search engine users who couldn't identify the ads.

stuntdubl




msg:241815
 8:20 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

I wonder what the percentages would be for a given SE...
For instance: G seems to be a little more easy to spot ads on than say...Jeeves, or a well designed adsense scraper site.

bhartzer




msg:241816
 8:22 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

From the study itself:
Only 38% of users are aware of the distinction between paid or “sponsored” results and unpaid results. And only one in six say they can always tell which results are paid or sponsored and which are not. This finding is ironic, since nearly half of all users say they would stop using search engines if they thought engines were not being clear about how they presented paid results.

What I personally find interesting is not really the 38 percent number, but the fact that "nearly half of all users say they would stop using search engines" if they thought they were not being clear about how they presented paid results.

As a website owner who relies on traffic from search engines, I don't really want to see half of all search engine users stop using search engines.

Brett_Tabke




msg:241817
 8:29 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

> G seems to be a little more easy to
> spot ads on than say

I'd bet Google would fair the worst of the lot. That is twice as true now that they are intermixing ads with the links to news.

Alot of people don't understand that "sponsored links" means advertising.

Trax




msg:241818
 9:20 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Brett, do you really think people are that stupid? If someone would really take a look, read the words "sponsored links" and just think for a second everybody must know that those are paid spots, no?

I think people just don't care if its sponsored or not in general as long as they think it is perfectly matching what they are lookinng for.

nevertheless its an interesting read :)

stuntdubl




msg:241819
 9:36 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

>google

My guess would be that folks just scan a site...based on placement rather than the label, they would be more likely to distinguish ads on G rather than AJ...and even more than Y...since Y ALWAYS has two ads on top where G only does some of the time. There was a great study done on expectected locations of common e-commerce elements [psychology.wichita.edu] a while ago, and I would imagine it would be the same. My guess is that MORE (not necessarily the majority) people expect ads to be on the right hand side of a website if you quiz them about it.

You can make ads APPEAR to not be based on placement...if you don't believe me, try blending some adsense on the left hand side and see what kind of CTR you get. :)

[edited by: stuntdubl at 9:42 pm (utc) on Jan. 24, 2005]

nuevojefe




msg:241820
 9:39 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Trax,

It's not about stupidity.

Alot of people don't understand that "sponsored links" means advertising.

Agreed.

stuntdubl




msg:241821
 9:45 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

People are also most looking for relevance (echoing the sentiments of the PR drones of G)...if they scan the page and see an ad on the right (or in the "sponsored links") that mentions their EXACT query and answers their question...they are going to click on it. I know the adwords ads I write often look much more compelling than the titles and descriptions that G pulls for the same page in the natural serps.

It would also be interesting to see breakouts by male vs. female as well, as from the statistics I've seen women tend to read a page much more thoroughly, where a man will just scan and click.

>stupidity
The punch the monkey ad was cool once until you figured out what it was for. It was not relevant, it was just an attention getting novelty. Sponsored ads HAVE to be relevant or their not worth bidding to be there. It's not a matter of stupidity...it's a matter of people using their advertising budgets more effectively highly targeted. Users aren't stupid...if they are finding what they want do they really care? Does G, Y, or M? Does the advertiser?

This doesn't really sound like the most scientifically valid study, nor does it really bring up any great surprises...It does bring up some interesting questions though ;)

Asking the casual user to understand search engines is like asking a webmaster to understand the combustion logistics of a diesel engine or an indoor plumbing installation. Probably gonna be a pretty a fairly small percentage success rate unless you have a dual-specialty or made a career change at some point. Yes, lots of people USE the internet...but we are at a bias often thinking that most people have any *understanding* of it.

[edited by: stuntdubl at 9:59 pm (utc) on Jan. 24, 2005]

BigDave




msg:241822
 9:52 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Considering how many WW users got confused when google added the sponsored links at the top of the page, I'm not surprised by the generl public not understanding.

I am no longer surprised whenever I see any survey results that show a high level of cluelessness. I am bothered, but not surprised.

That is why I no longer consider democracy to be the ultimate form of government. I can't tell you what would work better, but it frightens me to think about some of these people voting.

Brett_Tabke




msg:241823
 9:59 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Trax - it is different in Europe too. Sponsored means charity or nonprofits paid for it.

grelmar




msg:241824
 10:19 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Asking the casual user to understand search engines is like asking a webmaster to understand the combustion logistics of a diesel engine or an indoor plumbing installation.

I think it goes even beyond that. A close friend works as an inter-library researcher for the local University. She spends 8 hours a day on the internet, tracking down obscure reference works across North America and Europe.

She's exceedingly gifted at working ISBN searches, and using the internal engines of various academic instituions. But one day I watched her looking for recipes in Google, and was stunned at how many times she got "led astray" by ads, and she became increasingly frustrated.

She looks at the net as an intelectual. She sees it as a vast compendium of information and resources, but doesn't truly understand it as a marketing machine.

I would say that most people are in the same boat. They still believe in the myth of the internet as an information resource, when, more and more, it's a marketing resource.

IMHO

mistah




msg:241825
 10:21 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

1 in 6 is probably not too far off the mark. I run our company website, but it is in a non-IT industry (building related). Most employees that I have told about our Adwords / Overture listings were unaware that these positions in the search engines were paid for - and many were quite shocked when I told them. I know that it says "sponsered listings," but most people don't seem to read or understand it. To anyone that posts on Webmasterworld it seems obvious, but take a step back and look at it from the position of "Joe Public." To put it in perspective, most people don't know who the Prime Minister of Belgium is, although it would be obvious to most Belgians and International Relations students.

nuevojefe




msg:241826
 10:51 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Yes, lots of people USE the internet...but we are at a bias often thinking that most people have any *understanding* of it.

Very true. I am pretty good participating with a sales guy on the pitch... but sometimes I drift into technical land when I'm talking and I see that look in the potential clients eye like "what the #$%^ is he talking about?" and have to reel myself back in. These are generally very smart and savvy people, but they don't stare at (and research) this stuff all day like we do.

She looks at the net as an intelectual. She sees it as a vast compendium of information and resources, but doesn't truly understand it as a marketing machine.

I would say that most people are in the same boat. They still believe in the myth of the internet as an information resource, when, more and more, it's a marketing resource.

Most of our projects are very content driven, copywriters producing hundreds or even thousands of pages of real content. Unfortunately it is often not economically feasible to have true experts write on these subjects. Thus we're left with highly intelligible, grammatically correct, fairly well researched, but less than authoratative copy.

We SEO it, yada yada ... another keyword ranked, another conversion.

The point being sometimes I forget when I'm searching for personal purposes or even for business products, etc, that the information I'm seeing might be basically vaporware. An example is that we populate some of our review sites with hundreds of reviews of products we've never even used (not particularly proud of that but it's the old "who's gonna go into an empty..." mantra).

So, back on-topic, yea it's going to be long time before the general public realizes what a marketing vehicle the internet has become. Paid placement is mixed in more and more frequently and typically more stealthily. I'm not sure we really want the general public to come to this awareness as I think it would leave a sour taste in their collective mouth.

figment88




msg:241827
 11:14 pm on Jan 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

Yes, lots of people USE the internet...but we are at a bias often thinking that most people have any *understanding* of it

My father who has used the Internet for about four years, and probably averages two hours a week surfing, gave me the interesting revelation he read in a magazine that some people study search engines and try to get their pages to rank higher.

olias




msg:241828
 1:46 am on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sponsored means charity or nonprofits paid for it.

Yes sponsored can certainly have different meanings in the UK. It seems somewhat odd to me that you are allowed to run AdSense with a label of 'Sponsored Links' as that could certainly be considered to be incentivising clicks in a way that it might not be in the US. I should add that i am not complaining as primarily a publisher as it upped my CTR

john316




msg:241829
 3:14 am on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

The whole Adwords process is designed to blend in with organic results. Try making inappropriate use of a superlative, otherwise known as writing an ad. The use of "sponsored" vs. "advertisement" is a red herring issue.

There are a lot of subtleties at work. I'm not surprised by the survey results.

loanuniverse




msg:241830
 5:51 pm on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the knowledge of the public

phantombookman




msg:241831
 6:49 pm on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

Many people believe that sponsored sites are deemed the best of the bunch.
I regularly get people telling me that one, in particular, of my sites deserves to be in the sponsored section because it is better than those that are, they say it isn't fair!

I know someone else who uses the same sellers website as a homepage and uses the adsense as navigation to the other sites he likes. Says it's great to have links to all his favourite sites on one page!

I also get countless search terms in my logs www.mysite.com
You cannot underestimate some peoples understanding or experience, bad business practice.

kevinpate




msg:241832
 7:11 pm on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

> Many people believe that sponsored sites
> are deemed the best of the bunch.

Try the vast majority of the surfing populace. Yeah, I suppose I could be wrong, but my own beleif is that for the vast majority, "sponsored" does not equate to an ad. Instead, "sponsored" is simply seen as shorthand for 'This SE fully endorses and recommends this site as meeting your needs. Of course, you are free to try your luck with the rest of the pack.'

BigDave




msg:241833
 11:34 pm on Jan 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm willing to bet that the majority of them don't even notice the "sponsored link" text, and it would make no difference if you called them "advertising links" or whatever.

It would make a difference, but not much of one.

There is simply a larger portion of the population that does not read anything more than they have to, and that "sponsored link" text is in the category of "does not apply to what I am looking for".

I suspect that the only way that you can make it clear to them that they are ads is to switch to good old-fashioned banner ads.

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