Do 50% of adults really not recognise ads in search results?

Do 50% of adults really not recognise ads in search results?

April 27, 2016 12:03 pm

Around half of adults are unable to recognise advertisements in Google’s search outcomes, in accordance with a survey. 

This shocking statistic comes from Ofcom’s Adults’ media use and attitudes report, launched this month.

While I’ve seen research suggesting that many individuals don’t know the distinction between paid and natural advertisements, that fifty% might take a look at a set of outcomes like these under and nonetheless not spot them appears weird.

paid and organic results

The stats

For Ofcom’s research, ‘adults who use search engines’ have been proven an image of the SERPs for ‘strolling boots’.

This is what the SERP appears like now, however the research was carried out in 2015, so the buying outcomes weren't there at the moment. As the research says:

“Their consideration was drawn to the primary three outcomes on the prime of the listing, which have been distinguished by an orange field with the phrase ‘Ad’ written in it. They have been then prompted with three choices and requested whether or not any of those utilized to those first three outcomes.”

walking boots

The B,328 survey respondents have been allowed to pick multiple reply so, for instance, some might have stated that the advertisements have been each paid hyperlinks and the most effective outcomes.

Understanding of paid-for outcomes returned by Google searches, amongst adults who use search engine web sites or apps:

ofcom 1

To make clear the outcomes, 60% recognized them as paid hyperlinks, whereas forty nine% recognized them solely as paid advertisements, i.e. they chose solely the right reply.

Ofcom additionally cut up the outcomes out between newer and extra established web customers. Newer customers on this case are outlined as those that first went on-line lower than 5 years in the past. There have been one hundred sixty newer customers surveyed, and M,113 older customers.

These are the response to the identical query as earlier than, simply cut up by previous and new:

ofcom 2

In a nutshell: newer customers have been much less more likely to determine that the outcomes with the yellow advert label have been certainly paid outcomes. 34% of newer and fifty one% of established customers gave solely the right reply.

I requested Andrew Girdwood, Head of Media Technology at Cello Signal concerning the findings. He was fairly stunned: 

“I’ve intently adopted the evolution of disclosure in search engine advertisements through the years. At one level the strains have been blurred – Yahoo’s paid inclusion, for instance, traded your cash with for some kind of natural search place. Those days, in Europe and America, are lengthy gone. Regulators on each side of the Atlantic watch intently.

The advert badge updates to Google’s paid search ought to have made it crystal clear the itemizing has been paid for. We’re speaking a few vibrant yellow “Ad” label beside the end result. How are you able to miss it? Searching for aggressive key phrase? Google returns an entire column of Ad, Ad, Ad and Ad mentions. It leaps off the badge to me.

It is simply in need of thoughts boggling that fifty% of searchers within the UK can’t see the Ad disclosure. When Steve Krug revealed “Don’t Make Me Think” in 2000 to supply recommendation on net usability I marvel if he had imaged an viewers that was each digitally savvy and net-blind as this.”

Other research into PPC advertisements

I’ve checked out this points earlier than. In 2014, I reported on stats from UX agency Bunnyfoot, which discovered that 36% didn’t know that PPC advertisements have been certainly advertisements (a earlier research from the identical agency produced a determine of forty one%).

This was a comparatively small pattern – 103 individuals took UX exams with eye-monitoring know-how and have been requested afterwards in the event that they noticed any advertisements.

With the assistance of Dan Barker, I carried out additional checks on this utilizing two separate polls of greater than P,000 UK web customers in complete. We requested:

  1. Are individuals conscious of the existence of advertisements on Google Search?
  2. Do they consider they click on Google advertisements? And, in that case, how ceaselessly?

The outcomes have been very totally different to Ofcom’s, with simply round 10% not seeing advertisements in Google outcomes.

However, the very presence of the phrase ‘advert’ within the query maybe implied to respondents that there are advertisements on Google, and gave them a clue concerning the reply.

There was one other research by Varn earlier this yr which produced an identical reply to that from Ofcom.

This time, B,010 Uk web customers have been requested the next query. 50.S% couldn’t determine advertisements:


It is hard to plan the right check for this problem. If you ask customers questions, there's the apparent temptation for them to second-guess the reply and say what they assume is the suitable reply, somewhat than simply answering truthfully.

The Ofcom check, displaying customers the outcomes and asking the query appears sound sufficient to me. Also, that a number of totally different research have discovered a fairly excessive proportion of individuals not recognising advertisements, so I can solely conclude that there’s one thing on this.

Why can’t individuals see the advertisements?

This is the large query. As somebody who has labored in digital for greater than 10 years, it’s arduous to think about.

After all, there’s a reasonably clear yellow advert label subsequent to the outcomes. You can hardly accuse Google of not disclosing the character of the hyperlink.

However, Google has taken steps which some would interpret as decreasing the visibility of advertisements. Remember, Google has an curiosity in growing the variety of clicks on its advertisements.

For instance, PPC advertisements was shaded till a few years in the past, although there have been no advert labels.

PPC ads shaded

Recently, Google has experimented with inexperienced advert labels. The cause is unclear, nevertheless it might be a method to assist the advert label mix in with the URL textual content. Or it might merely be considered one of a collection of experiments to seek out the perfect performing format.

green ad labels

I suspect this can be a comparable factor to banner blindness, by which individuals have simply grow to be resistant to, or have discovered to disregard the weather on the web page that don’t curiosity them.

Indeed, loads of eye-monitoring research have proven that customers will merely not take a look at sure parts on a web page. Could it's that customers are wanting on the prime outcomes and easily not seeing (or processing) the ‘advert’ label?

Whatever the rationale, and regardless of the actual proportion of search customers who don’t recognise advertisements in Google, it appears clear that there's a problem right here.

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