Who identify sponsored links in search engine results? / by Michel Lubac

Half of all search engine users can identify sponsored links in search engine results

In 2015, adults who use search engine websites were shown a picture of the results returned by Google for an online search for ‘walking boots’. Their attention was drawn to the first three results at the top of the list, which were distinguished by an orange box with the word ‘Ad’ written in it. They were then prompted with three options and asked whether any of these applied to these first three results. These options were:

• These are adverts/ sponsored links/ paid to appear here

• These are the best results/ the most relevant results

• These are the most popular results used by other people

The results are shown in Figure below. Three in five adults who use search engines (60%) stated that the first three results were sponsored links/ advertising/ paid to appear there. Similar proportions gave incorrect responses, either saying that the results were the best or most relevant (23%), or that they were the most popular results used by other people (20%). Around one in eight (12%) said they were unsure.

Understanding of paid-for results returned by Google searches, among adults who use search engine websites or apps

Compared to all adults, those aged 65+ were more likely to say they were unsure (28% vs. 12%) and less likely to say that the first three results are adverts (50% vs. 60%).
Adults in AB households (70%) are more likely than all adults (60%) to recognise the results as advertising, while those in DE households are less likely (47%). Men are more likely compared to women (64% vs. 57%).
Search engine users were allowed to select more than one response to this question, so it is also worthwhile looking at those who gave only the correct response and did not select either of the other options. Half of all adults (49%) only gave the correct response; that is, they stated that the results flagged were adverts. This incidence does not vary by age or by gender, but is more likely among search engine users in AB households (59% vs. 49%) and less likely among those in DE households (36%).
Adults who understand that some of the websites returned by search engines will show truthful information and some will not (62% of those who use search engine websites, as shown in Figure 122) are more likely to be aware that the results are sponsored links (65% vs. 60% for all) but are no more likely to give only the correct response (52% vs. 49%).

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