Brits don’t understand search engines

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Almost all of us use search engines, but most Britons “either have no idea or an inaccurate view of how online search results are determined,” according to the Online Search Matters Survey produced for FastHosts, the Web hosting company. The main findings are:

Nearly 1 in 4 Britons (24%) believe that the order of the search listings they use cannot be influenced by the publishers of websites listed, whilst a similar proportion (22%) suspect that results are ordered entirely according to how much has been paid by the websites listed. 1 in 5 consumers (19%) have no idea at all how results are compiled, and 5% believe that search listings are arranged completely at random like a lottery.

To be clear: the major search engines do not charge for listings, but their results are influenced by Web site publishers, partly through the use of SEO (search engine optimisation) techniques.

Men (33%) understand how search engines work a little better than women (26%).

Britons also trust organic results more than the “sponsored listings” that often appear above or alongside them. Fasthosts says:

1 in 3 (33%) believe these listings to be ‘less worthy’ and ‘less useful’ than main search results. Two thirds of web users (66%) report that they always pay attention first to main results, and some 40% of women and 34% of men will consciously ignore sponsored links whenever they appear.

The survey is based on 1,636 UK adults interviewed by Tickbox.net in November 2008 via electronic feedback forms.

Of course, if you started compiling a list of things that lots of Brits don’t understand, you’d be busy for some time. It’s also not clear that understanding how search engines work has much practical value if you just want to find sites, rather than promote them. However, if I ran a search engine, I’d be looking for ways to make it clearer that organic results, unlike sponsored links, are not paid for.

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