An article in The Financial Times states that online shoppers who carelessly use Google search results often end up paying more, as the first search result provided by the search engine is usually a sponsored link or an ad. However, not all experts agree with the findings in the article.
Frequent internet shoppers know that being able to compare is very important, but many online shoppers are not as fanatical about finding the cheapest option as people shopping in real life. The first relevant link on search engines often wins the fight for the consumer, even though some companies pay quite a lot to become the sponsored link at the top of the search results or right next to them.
Not every internet user notices the distinct layout for sponsored links: “Even experienced users misclick sometimes,” as Google expert Henk van Ess told Belgian newspaper De Morgen. “Recent studies have shown that 40 % of internet users do not spot the difference between ads and search results.”
That does not mean it is Google’s fault: the search engine giant has recently altered its policy, showing more clearly which of the links are ads. Moreover, analysts have pointed out that Google wants to show the best results, which are not (always) the cheapest results.
Google keeps algorithm a secret
It is still unclear why certain ads and search results appear at the top: it is a complicated and secret algorithm that decides which links are shown first. “If Google were to divulge its algorithm, competing search engines (like Bing, Yahoo, Ask and Baidu from China) could mimic it. That would mean that Google could easily be replaced with other, similar search engines,” social media expert Joris Roebben of Bakermen said.
"We only know which factors influence Google’s famous algorithm, which made Google into the large company it is now, and the fact that no one has been able to mimic the algorithm, which has given internet users the best search results possible.” Google considers - among other factors - the links on your website, the dependability and relevance of your content and relates it to the search request.
"Your browser history is taken into account, which means that results may differ from person to person. That combination of factors will decide which links appear at the top of the search results. As no one fully knows how Google works, it is very hard to demonstrate that Google is doing something wrong", Roebben added.
Best paying ad not always on top
"The ads shown depends on a lot of variables, not only price. It is also about relevance, ratings and number of clicks”, Google explained to The Financial Times. Social media expert Roebben concurs: “Contrary to what has often been said, it is not the company with the biggest wallet (and who can pay most to get your click) that will automatically appear at the top of the paid search results”.
"There is also something called a quality score, depending on how your campaign is designed, how customers interact with the ad, how they click on and so forth. The combination of the quality score and the offer the company made decide the order of the ad.”
Eventually, it seems that consumers have to act the same way online as they do when they go out shopping. Comparing prices and deciding which pieces of information are purely advertisements, are part of that experience. “Using your brain will help you along online as well”, Roebben concludes.
(Translated by Gary Peeters)