Eye-tracking heat maps of search results pages generally reveal that most searchers’ focus is on the top, left hand third of the natural search result links rather than on the spaces devoted to search engine advertising.
It begs the question of whether search engine advertising, as opposed to natural search engine marketing, is effective at all.
- Recommendations from consumers – 78%
- Newspapers – 63%
- Consumer opinions posted online – 61%
- Brand websites – 60%
- Television – 56%
Conversely, the least trusted forms of advertising are:
- Email I signed up for – 49%
- Ads before movies – 38%
- Search engine ads – 34%
- Online banner ads – 26%
- Text ads on mobile phones – 18%
I have always emphasized natural search engine marketing over search engine advertising for the very reason that people consider the links in the natural search results to be more credible and therefore more trustworthy and as a result they will be more likely to click on those links.
The fact that few people consider search engine advertising trustworthy while many people trust brand websites is a compelling argument for emphasizing natural search engine marketing over paid search advertising.
That does not mean that I think search engine advertising doesn’t work, though. Clearly, Google would not be thriving due to its search engine ad revenue if the service didn’t produce results.
While people do trust natural search results more, the same dynamic is probably at work as it is with traditional advertising.
People do not tend to pay attention to advertising until it’s relevant to them; that is, until they are in the market for what is being advertising. I’d love to see a study on it, but I’d be willing to bet that as people move closer to a purchase decision, the search engine ads would increasingly be perceived as more and more trustworthy.