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The Internet The Almighty Buck

Survey Says Internet Users Confuse Search Results, Ads 338

irishdaze writes "ABC News is reporting that apparently only 18% of adult web searchers can tell the difference between actual search results and advertisements. In addition to this astounding conclusion, the Pew Internet and American Life Project's survey of 2,200 adults (only 1,399 of which are actual internet users, mind you) also indicates that 92% of web searchers feel they are confident in their own searching abilities."
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Survey Says Internet Users Confuse Search Results, Ads

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:20PM (#11458853)
    Google puts the search results in colored boxes, and the ads are all in black and white.
  • by froggero1 ( 848930 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:20PM (#11458856)
    It may also have to do with the fact that when these adults are surfing the pron, they dont really care what's an ad or a website, so long as it has boobs
  • by Some guy named Chris ( 9720 ) * on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:20PM (#11458857) Journal

    92% of web searchers

    Dude, relax. They are saying they interviewed 2200 adults. A certain percentage of those reported they were web searchers (probably somewhere near that 1399 number you quoted). Then, of that number, 90% of THEM feel confident in their own searching abilities.

    In other words, nothing to see here, move along. Still, it's more fun to blame Pew than your own analytical skills.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:21PM (#11458876) Homepage Journal
    "ABC News is reporting that apparently only 18% of adult web searchers can tell the difference between actual search results and advertisements.

    <Homer>Woo hoo! Finally above average! Take that Marilyn vos Savant!</Homer>

    92% of web searchers feel they are confident in their own searching abilities.

    Other useful stats:

    38% believe Prince Magumbe Obada of Nigeria has $14,000,000 to share with them

    56% believe that penis pills really work.

    29% believe they have just updated their PayPal or bank account safely and securely

    91% believe all that harddrive activity and bandwidth usage is Microsoft Windows ensuring their computer is safe and secure

    44% believe the moon is still made of green cheese and the landings were staged in a warehouse in El Segundo

    76% believe everything they read on the internet, which doesn't challenge their moral values, is true, the rest is all crap

  • only 2200? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheQwe ( 795209 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:21PM (#11458881) Homepage
    that sounds like a very small chunk of adults to perform such a study on.
    • Re:only 2200? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anarchos ( 122228 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:27PM (#11459000) Homepage
      National surveys typically have 1500 participants, which will yield a respectable margin of error of about 3%. If you read the article, it states at the bottom that the 1399 internet users who responded gives a margin of error of 3%. It's rare to find a national survey will a smaller margin of error.
    • That's a common misconception. If the sampling was done properly then the sampling should be representative of the population. The specific size of the sample is not as important as the quality of the sample.

      I am NOT an expert, but I've had enough statistics to not be alarmed by the sample size.
      • Re:only 2200? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by swv3752 ( 187722 )
        Though the larger the sample the more valid the statiscal results.

        Of course these things are innately biased. Would you answer a phone survey? So who would? Perhaps gullible idiots?
    • Re:only 2200? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rumblin'rabbit ( 711865 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @03:03PM (#11459538) Journal
      This is a not bad sample size at all. Statistics 101 goes into such things.

      One serious problem is that this is not a random sample. It's only a sample of that portion of the population willing to answer telephone surveys - not a group I would want to base important decisions on.

      A second problem is that we don't know how many surveyed just make up answers at random. The 90-year-old cross-dressing skate boarders from Baton Rouge are particularly into this.

    • Re:only 2200? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jfengel ( 409917 )
      Wikipedia has a good, reasonably technical article on the subject [wikipedia.org].

      Basically, the trick is that when you're looking at more than a few thousand people, you can effectively treat them as infinite. Obviously you can't sample _everybody_ from an infinite number, but assuming you can sample randomly (and that's a big if), you can get a reasonably good approxiation with a fairly small sample size.

      If you think about it, it doesn't seem too unreasonable. If you have an infinite sock drawer with 90% black and 10
  • This is easy to do in Altavista. Go there and do a search on "ads". After few times of this confusion, I basically stopped using them entirely.
  • Because (Score:5, Funny)

    by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) * on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:23PM (#11458907) Homepage
    This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. People don't pay that much attention to to what they are reading.

    For example, re-read this post. Carefully.

    • Sorry, I don't understand. Exactly, what's wrong with with your post?
    • Re:Because (Score:3, Insightful)

      Has it ever occured that due to information overload on the Internet that people now speed read just about everything they see? I do, and had to re-read your comment again just to to see the second 'to'. ;)
      • Re:Because (Score:3, Funny)

        by rah1420 ( 234198 )
        Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.
        • Re:Because (Score:2, Informative)

          Actually, there was a follow up a few days later where it was discovered that simply reversing the order of the internal letters in the words would again render them difficult to read. Jsut thguoht I'd pniot taht out, bsuacee I fnoud it initseretng.
        • Re:Because (Score:3, Informative)

          by Cookie3 ( 82257 )
          Please mod the parent off-topic, overrated and/or uninsightful.

          First of all, it's not a real research project at any real university. Secondly, the 'trick' to this appears to have more to do with numbers and powers than anything else:

          The vast majority of English words are 4-6 letters long, in dictionary form. By subtracting the first and last letter, we're typically left with 2! (2), 3! (6) or 4! (24) possible word orders. Our brains simply search until a rough match is found.

          Context may also provide a c
      • Has it ever occured that due to information overload on the Internet that people now speed read just about everything they see? I do, and had to re-read your comment again just to to see the second 'to'. ;)

        No, it's because we have excellent signal processors attached to our eyes, and are able to correct simple errors like that before it gets out of our language centers and into the rest of our brain.

        This is a good thing. Why would you care to catch on every error you see or hear?
        • Re:Because (Score:2, Interesting)

          by RetroGeek ( 206522 )
          it's because we have excellent signal processors attached to our eyes, and are able to correct simple errors like that before it gets out of our language centers and into the rest of our brain.

          Which is why I do proofreading backwards. It is much easier to to catch errors reading backwards:

          backwards reading errors catch to to easier much is It
    • Re:Because (Score:2, Funny)

      by bcattwoo ( 737354 )
      Reading slashdot while noticing every grammar and spelling error would be a painful exercise indeed.
    • In that case, it's not so much a matter of people not paying attention as it is that we're pretty good at interpreting what's written in to what it probably should be.
  • Not so surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:23PM (#11458923)
    I keep hearing it quoted that 80% of people think they're above-average drivers, too. People who are complete idiots never seem to realise how bad they are at things.
  • reminds me (Score:2, Interesting)

    Reminds me of that Cisco spoof commercial that was something along the lines of:

    "This year more people used the internet than there are people."

  • by Anarchos ( 122228 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:24PM (#11458932) Homepage
    "When I do the math, 92% of 2200 is 2024. This means that Pew/Internet is saying that more people are confident with their web searching skills than actually use the Internet. Saying that something is wrong here just doesn't cover it."

    The article says "92% of web searchers" not 92% of the respondents. Only 1399 respondents used the internet, and it is possible that some of those don't do web searches. The submitter of this article is an idiot.

  • ...that same 18% are the only ones who can drive well, who didn't vote for Bush, and who wouldn't sue McDonalds for making them fat. Also, strangely enough, 37.8% of all statistics are made up.
  • The survey said 92% of web searchers. Not 92% of the survey population.

    SteveM

  • OK, time for the submitter to RTFA. From page 1 of the report:

    92% of those who use search engines say they are confident about their searching abilities

    That's not people who don't use the internet saying they know how to search it well.
  • Google (Score:3, Insightful)

    by StevenHenderson ( 806391 ) <stevehenderson&gmail,com> on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:25PM (#11458958)
    Apparently Google's clear spelling out of "Sponsored Links" is not clear enough for some id10+s...
  • and to think i was doing a search for todays seo optimization and the google api stuff and ended up at this article! those bots are fast! http://www.epicurean.com/ [epicurean.com]
  • I have to wonder how many people have spyware on their computer that sets their web search home to xupiter(which seems to be down at the moment) or other such "search engines". If you use those things, all your results ARE ads, so I really cannot blame the people who got confused.
  • At the risk of sounding crass, I think that the goal is to mix advertisements and search results. When the user cannot easily distinguish the two, then she will accidentally click on the advertisement and see the product hawked by the seller paying for the ad. The seller actually benefits from this confusion, and the search engine company (SEC) also benefits because more clicks on the advertisement means more revenue for the SEC.

    Given such a win for the seller and the SEC, there will be little motivat

  • ...are confident in their comprehension ability, even though this number exceeds the number who say they read the underlying article.
  • The Pew Internet and American Life Project's survey of 2,200 adults (only 1,399 of which are actual internet users, mind you) also indicates that 92% of web searchers feel they are confident in their own searching abilities. When I do the math... Pew/Internet is saying that more people are confident with their web searching skills than actually use the Internet.

    "Web searchers" is a subset of internet users. Thus presumably starting with even fewer than 1,399.
  • Pew research (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:27PM (#11459002)
    This means that Pew/Internet is saying that more people are confident with their web searching skills than actually use the Internet.

    What do you expect from an organization that did a telephone survey to determine the effectiveness of telephone surveys? [counterpunch.org]

    The best part was that they determined afterwards that most people answer their phones, don't screen survey calls, etc. Do they live in some kind of alternate reality?

    That said, I see several reasons for the results- a)people not understanding the questions (such as responding to "have you used the internet" as if it was actually "do you have internet access at home"...people do this all the time) b)lying to fit in ("Oh sure, I have the Intraweb! Yeah, I know how to use it!"), or c)lying just to fuck with the results (like we used to do in high school with the anonymous drug surveys. "PCP?" "Oh no, I prefer cocaine, that PCP stuff will fuck you up." "You're both full of it, I like Speed"...is a sample of the lunchtime conversation on survey-day).

  • by yorkpaddy ( 830859 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:30PM (#11459046)
    More interesting is the fact that search engines can't tell the difference between commercial sites and informative sites. When I search for something I rarely want to hear the manufacturers spiel on that product, I want real first person accounts. Search engines seem to have no idea of the difference between a review and and advertisement. It can't be that hard. Search for a hard drive review. 90% of the search results have the exact same text (all stores which are selling the product), very few results come bac that objectively review the product. The sites that do objectively review the product don't say the exact same thing that the manufacturer says. hello Google?
  • That 28.6% of adults don't use the internet, they use the eentarweb.

  • I would not care as long as the linked ad pages contained the actual phrase being searched for. However, accuracy and relevance is too much to ask for a search engine these days. Do a search on "miserable failure" on Google, and the top few hits do not even contain the phrase. Instead of accurate and relevant results, you can see how much Democrats and Republicans hate each other.

    Altavista is much more accurate, but they pollute their results with ad pages made to look like real hits.

  • I've noticed alot of my students have problems distinguishing the ads from results on download.com. It takes a good bit of extra instruction to get them to understand the difference.
  • by yet another coward ( 510 ) <yacoward AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:30PM (#11459061)
    Do surveys ever reveal anything else?
    • Sure. They reveal that you can "prove" anything you want with carefully modelled questions and statistics. Any desired outcome can be supported. You have to look at who's doing the survey, who's PAYING for the survey, and what their agenda is.

      There's no such thing as an unbiased survey. There is such a thing as a survey which is carefully crafted to balance biases to produce a statistically valid outcome given the right analysis (but even then, the raw data from such a survey shoudn't be interpreted by
  • Most adults also believe that diet aids sold on TV can really give you six-pack abs, that most rich people won the lottery, and that buying a certain perfume/cologne will get you hooked up with hotties of the opposite sex.
  • Brand loyalty (Score:3, Insightful)

    by saddino ( 183491 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:31PM (#11459076)
    The finding shows that 44% of web searchers (ahem) use only one search engine. That's amazing in and of itself and probably brings tears of joy to the current market leaders (read: Google). It looks like it's going to take some more intense search engine advertising (a la Yahoo!'s old TV campaign) to get people to consider trying something new.
  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:34PM (#11459123) Homepage Journal
    ...that search results are confusing!!!1!!

    Any1 other AOLer hear bout this?!! message me if you know!

    k THX BYE

  • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @02:34PM (#11459125)
    I advertise my consulting business using Adwords, and many of my clients have no idea that they clicked on a paid advertisement to get to me. I know this because I always ask how they found me. I've even had several inquire how I got my website ranked so highly on google... when I tell them that it's not, that they clicked on a paid ad, they often tell me I'm wrong! I had a client last week that *insisted* my site was in the free results, which I know is not the case for the keywords she claimed she used.

    Of course, I'm not complaining...

    -R
    • I advertise my consulting business using Adwords, and many of my clients have no idea that they clicked on a paid advertisement to get to me. I know this because I always ask how they found me. I've even had several inquire how I got my website ranked so highly on google... when I tell them that it's not, that they clicked on a paid ad, they often tell me I'm wrong! I had a client last week that *insisted* my site was in the free results, which I know is not the case for the keywords she claimed she used.
    • Some search engines are inserting paid results into the natural listings. I haven't found anyone that admits to it, but I know at least one major engine that is.

      Google is not that engine. One of the services my company has started selling is Adwords consulting. Anyone can set up an Adwords campaign, but not everyone is savvy enough to understand how it works and run a successful keyword campaign. One of our clients definitely isn't savvy - so we're helping them do this. It's not a huge budget.

      A friend of
  • In addition to this astounding conclusion, the Pew Internet and American Life Project's survey of 2,200 adults (only 1,399 of which are actual internet users, mind you) also indicates that 92% of web searchers feel they are confident in their own searching abilities.

    I would hazard a guess that "actual internet users" means people who have an internet connection at home. Which would imply that the people outside of the 1,399 aer probably people who access the internet in a public area (cafe, library, town

  • ...or whatever. Every once in a while you read about a survey result that makes you go, "How can people be sooo STUPID?"

    I mean, I don't consider myself all that super intelligent, esp. compared to some of the programmers/developers/sysadmins on places like slashdot. I know a guy who has a CS degree from Caltech, and just looking at the classes you need to pass to graduate makes me run in fear. But compared to the typical man on the street, I'm a fucking genius.

    The idea of a big nanny state knowing what'

  • Sometimes it seems like even Google's wonderful AdWords program is fragile...especially it's business model.

    As soon everyone figures out Google's text ads, *are* ads, Web advertising will get kicked down another notch.

    Text ad blindness can't follow too far behind banner blindness, can it?

  • We used to run a google ad words when people searched for shell accounts or shell access and so on.

    One day, we got a request from some lady in Florida. When I called her to give her the password, she was REALLY confused. I told her I was calling to give her the password and she said "I haven't even received the card yet". I said "Card? You don't mean like a shell gas station card do you?". "Yeah", she replied.

    She had gone through our entire signup form and given her credit card information without
  • Meanwhile, most people don't know the difference between their address bar and ${search_engine}'s search field.
  • What ads? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <perry@matt54.yahoo@com> on Monday January 24, 2005 @03:05PM (#11459571)
    Be confused no more. Add this to your userContent.css file. Anyone have entries for other search engines that use text ads?
    /* Remove ads from Google search results */
    @-moz-document url-prefix(http://www.google.com/) {
    table[width="25%"][align="right"][bgColor="#ffffff "] {
    display: none ! important
    }
    }

    /* Remove ads from Froogle */
    @-moz-document url-prefix(http://froogle.google.com/) {
    td[valign="top"][width="20%"][align="right"] > table {
    display: none ! important
    }
    }

    /* Remove ads from Gmail */
    @-moz-document url-prefix(http://gmail.google.com/gmail) {
    #rh table[class="metatable"] {
    display: none !important;
    }
    #rh div[class="c"] {
    display: none !important;
    }
    }

    /* Remove ads from Google Groups */
    @-moz-document url-prefix(http://groups-beta.google.com/) {
    /* Remove ads from Google Groups message detail view */
    table[id="rn"] {
    display: none ! important
    }
    /* Remove ads from Google Groups search results */
    table[width="200"][align="right"] {
    display: none ! important
    }
    }
  • This reminds me of studies that show something like 85% of drivers think they are above average in terms of safety and skill. Humans are masters of this sort of self-delusion, but mostly it comes out of shear ignorance. Intelligent slashdot-worthy people are a tiny minority of the people using the web. That's a good, good thing: it keeps the rest of us employed. This is something to celebrate, especially if you run a web site that uses AdSense.
  • This is a very good turn of affairs. People too illiterate to distinguish between raw results and ads are a marketer's dream, and their unwitting business subsidizes the whole system. While the rest of us can usually distinguish the two, and so avoid the ads. As long as 82% are so easily fooled, the ad biz won't spend the time and money to blur the distinction any more, fooling more of us. Just like innumerate state lottery players subsidize education budgets. In the kingdom of the couch potato, the remote-
  • Not so surprised... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KontinMonet ( 737319 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @03:17PM (#11459821) Homepage Journal
    Even self-proclaimed 'expert' users sometimes amaze me with their search results. One SysAdmin I know had an idea for a product that he was going to build with a friend of his. He drew me pictures, gave an outline of expected profits. He said that he'd done quite a bit of searching on the Net and couldn't find any competition. I thought that was odd and sat at his terminal and within a few minutes, found nine companies selling almost exactly the product he'd described on both sides of the Atlantic, from basic to luxury with a wide range of prices. He promptly gave up the idea. (Perhaps I should have charged consultancy?)
  • You think? (Score:3, Funny)

    by dswensen ( 252552 ) * on Monday January 24, 2005 @03:25PM (#11459949) Homepage
    Survey Says Internet Users Confuse Shit, Shinola

    Survey Says Internet Users Confuse Ass, Hole in the Ground

    Survey Says Internet Users Unaware Bears Shit in Woods

    Survey Says Internet Users Unable to Find Own Head with Both Hands, Flashlight

    Survey Says Internet Users Approximately as Smart as Submarine Screen Door, Rubber Crutch, Solar-Powered Flashlight
  • by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Monday January 24, 2005 @04:25PM (#11460880) Homepage Journal
    The fact that the survey was conducted by phone makes me wary of the results.

    For one thing, most people have a very hard time talking about the elements of computer interfaces. As someone who works on web interface development for clients, time and time again people will look at a comp, then when discussing the comp from memory will miss vital aspects of the comp or have a difficult time describing which elements of the comp they want altered and why.

    This is a case where observed use would provide much better insight into how people interact with paid search ads. It's like the difference between focus group recommendations and usability testing results. Almost always there are differences between what people say they want when you're talking about it on the phone and what they actually want when they're sitting in front of a computer.

    Also, I find it annoying that they didn't break the results out by engine. Not all paid advertising is set aside in the same fashion, and my guess is that results would vary by engine. The Pew folks likely have their reasons for keeping the results aggregated, but it also makes the information less valuable, because it doesn't reveal what specific aspects of advertiser identification work and which don't.

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