A paper presented at the Sixth ACM Conference on E-commerce by Penn State School of Information Sciences and Technology professor Jim Jansen indicates that consumers exhibit a substantial measure of bias against sponsored links. The report details a study in which 56 participants, ages 18 to 29, gauged the results from 330 e-commerce result queries entered into a leading search engine, and the researchers concocted a fake search engine to display one page of the results from the queries. Sponsored links and “organic” results returned automatically by the search engine’s algorithmic functions were flipped on half the pages, and the researchers discovered that participants first referenced the results identified as organic on over 80 percent of the searches. From their release:
“Prior research had noted a bias against sponsored links, but the question remaining was whether sponsored links were as good as organic links,” Jansen said. “What our study shows is that even when the returned results are exactly the same, people still view what they thought of as the organic results as better.”
The quality of the sponsored links isn’t the issue; it’s the placement of the results, he added.