Consumer confusion over search engine listings

Nearly two thirds of Australians cannot distinguish paid search engine listings from natural results, a new survey has revealed.




According to a survey by search marketing firm iProspect, only 40% of respondents identified paid listings purchased by advertisers, which appear on the right-hand side of a search results page or at the top of the page in a shaded box.


The survey is understood to be the first major study of search engine marketing in the Asia-Pacific region, surveying more than 15,000 search users in 11 countries.


In 2007, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched legal action against Google on the basis that it misleads or deceives consumers by not adequately distinguishing between organic results and paid listings.


Chris Thomas, chief search engineer at SEO firm Reseo, says Google is aware that most users look at the top right-hand corner of a search results page, which is where paid listings are positioned.


“You can have up to three results sitting up there and then another eight down the right-hand side in the box format,” Thomas says.


“A lot of people take the easy option and they tend to start clicking on the top results, not being aware that they are in fact advertising.”



Thomas says start-ups should run a brand campaign in Google Ads to show off their brand, even if they have the number one listing.


“What can happen is that someone will type in your brand name, together with a product that you stock,” Thomas says.


“If somebody else is bidding on the search team’s product, often you will see their ads show up against your brand and their ads will appear above your brand name. It’s important that you run a brand campaign for that very reason.”


iProspect Australia managing director Kevin Walsh says advertisers need to incorporate a search advertising safety net into their brand campaigns or potentially miss the chance to influence consumers during the purchase cycle.


“They could search, become aware [of a product] and then purchase it without seeing any other communication out there,” Walsh says.


According to Thomas, start-ups should also opt for a cost-per-click model over a cost-per-mile model.


“On a cost to click basis, you only pay when someone clicks on the ad and you receive unlimited impressions, and a CPM model is when you pay for every thousand impressions,” Thomas says.


“People tend to have it in their heads that they need to be bidding on CPM. We strongly recommend the other way around. [CPC] is the cheapest form of branding that I’ve ever seen in my life.”


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