Google may not be as transparent as company executives think when it comes to serving up ads on search results pages. Research from consultancy Bunnyfoot suggests 40% of Web users are unaware that the Google ads above their search results are paid advertisements.
The team discovered that 81% of users clicked on Google AdWords listings as opposed to natural search results during a customer experience research project for a client in the insurance industry.
It turns out that 41 of the 100 people tested did not know AdWords were paid ads. They thought the ads were the "most authoritative links" because they appear at the top of the page.
The confusion appears to reside in the ads above natural search query results. The same confusion did not occur with advertisements down the right rail of Google results pages, which people searching for information recognized as promotional slots.
London-based Bunnyfoot, which supports clients like Microsoft, used eye-tracking technology to capture where participants were looking and depth interviews to monitor the emotional responses and behavior of 100 experienced Internet users, all of whom had previously purchased their car insurance online and conducted various other Web transactions, so they were not new to design and structure of a Google search page.
When quizzed about what they thought the AdWords were and why they were appearing at the top of their search results, those participants who were unaware of the listings' sponsored status typically assumed that their top-of-page slot indicated quality and relevance.
Most participants believed the first three results meeting the search criteria are "presumably the best" and that they are the "best match for what you have put in the search. They have got the words that you have put in or are the most popular.