An Empirical Investigation on Search Engine Ad Disclosure

Lewandowski, D., Kerkmann, F., Rümmele, S., & Sünkler, S. (2018). An empirical investigation on search engine ad disclosure. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 69(3), 420–437.

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This representative study of German search engine users (N=1,000) focuses on the ability of users to distinguish between organic results and advertisements on Google results pages. We combine
questions about Google’s business with task-based studies in which users were asked to distinguish between ads and organic results in screenshots of results pages. We find that only a small percentage of users is able to reliably distinguish between ads and organic results, and that user knowledge of Google’s business model is very limited. We conclude that ads are insufficiently labelled as such, and that many users may click on ads assuming that they are selecting organic results.