Search: Customers Feel Misled By Top-Ranked Results, Study Finds

Some 51% of consumers say when searching for information on a product, they sometimes feel misled by one of the websites in the search results.  

The number of consumers who have felt misled by site results that serve up on the first page of Google search results seems high, and “there’s still a pretty high percentage of consumers who feel misled often,” said David Naffziger, CEO of BrandVerity. “The biggest misleading results have been pushed out of the first-page results by Google’s algorithmic changes throughout the years.”

One in four consumers report feeling misled “often” or “always," according to data released Tuesday by BrandVerity. The findings also suggest that 25% say they often end up somewhere unexpected that does not provide them with what they were looking for when clicking on a search result. That's quite a lot when considering that Google supports trillions of searches annually.  

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It's not clear whether they feel misled by publishers or the search engine.

The commissioned BrandVerity research, conducted in October, analyzes the habits of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers to gain a better understanding of the search experiences and the impact on brand perception.

Up for grabs this holiday season, eMarketer forecasts that U.S. retail sales will rise 3.8% to $1.008 trillion, making it the first-ever trillion-dollar holiday season, while U.S. retail ecommerce spending will rise 13.2% to $135.35 billion.

The research also found that only 37% of consumers understand that search engine results are categorized by a combination of relevance and advertising spend. The other 63% of consumers believe search engine results pages (SERP’s) are categorized by either relevance or spend, or they simply “don’t know.”

About 31% say they don’t believe search engines like Google do a good job of labeling ads that appear as links. Not surprisingly, without this clear understanding, consumers usually click on the results that appear first, believing they are the most relevant.

Here’s the problem, according to BrandVerity. During the holidays, there is typically a 20% to 30% increase in brand bidding as brands compete for that top spot.

With ill-informed consumers trusting top results, brands need to be extra careful about protecting revenue. Many consumers consider being ranked first to be an indication of the quality and validity of the site.

Competitors, bad affiliates looking to make quick commissions, and other bad actors will work overtime to divert holiday shopping traffic their way, according to the report.

Some 52% of consumers say they sometimes purchase a competing product because it “also appeared in the search results.”

The study also looked at where consumers begin their search. Similar to data from Jumpshot, branded searches mostly begin on Amazon. When survey takers were asked where they begin their branded search for a specific brand or product such as Nike online, 56% report beginning their search on Amazon, compared with 30% who say they begin on Google. Only 9% say they begin on the brand’s website.

“It will all depend on how Nike can redirect the searches,” he said.

Generic searches — like “running shoes” — mostly begin on Google.

Some 52% begin their search on Google, compared with 37% who cite beginning their search on Amazon. Only 5% said they begin on “other search engines.” 

Consumers who research online before purchasing a product make up nearly 65% of holiday shoppers.

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