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Study: Most Searchers Can't Tell Search Results from Ads, Use Search to Shop

Big market,
but apparently unread

More than half of internet users - 56 percent - do not know the difference between natural search engine results and paid search listings, and 51 percent of online U.S. adults use search for shopping, according to a Harris Interactive survey of more than 2,000 internet users, commissioned by search engine marketing agency iCrossing. Google users tend to know the difference between natural and paid listings (54 percent), followed by Yahoo users (42 percent) and MSN searchers (36 percent).

The study comes on the heels of one by Consumers Reports, critical of search engines for not more clearly disclosing the difference.

Meanwhile, of the 51 percent of adults using search engines for shopping, 80 percent use it to compare prices. Men are more likely than women to research products online (75 percent and 65 percent, respectively); there isn't a large gender difference among those looking for an online retailer. Though local search has become an increasing focus for engines, less than 50 percent of all who use search for shopping are looking for a local retailer of specific products and services. More women - 61 percent - use search engines to find health and medical information than men (35 percent).

Though Google is the most widely used search engine at 77 percent of users, most people are not loyal to just one engine. Thirteen percent of Google searchers say they use only Google while 11 percent of AOL members use only AOL for search and 10 percent of MSN users search only MSN.

Younger internet users were more likely to know which listings were ads. While 47 percent of 18-34-year-olds said they knew the difference, 62 percent of those 55 and over could not tell. Experience was not a determinant: 53 percent of internet users online for more than five years could not distinguish advertising content.


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