Searchers Trust Google’s Rank Above Abstracts In Search Results

University students don’t question Google from PC World reports on a recent study named In Google We Trust: Users’ Decisions on Rank, Position, and Relevance.

The study surveyed 22 Cornell University students on the Google search results. The conclusion of the study showed that these students trusted Google’s ranking of the search results at a higher rate, even when the abstracts (snippets) of the lower results were more “relevant” to their search query.

Here is part of the summary:

In summary, the findings here show that college student subjects are heavily influenced by the order in which the results are presented and, to a lesser extent, the actual relevance of the abstracts. These subjects trust Google in that they click on abstracts in higher positions even when the abstracts are less relevant to the task. When looked at in combination, the behavioral data (clicked choices) and the ocular data indicate that while there might be some implicit awareness of the conflict between the displayed position and their own evaluation of the abstracts, it is either not enough, or not strong enough, to override the effects of displayed position.

If you continue reading, you will notice the researcher theorized that the rich on Google, keep getting even richer.

Combining users’ proclivity to trust ranked results with Google’s algorithm increases the chances that those “already rich” by virtue of nepotism get “filthy rich” by virtue of robotic searchers. Smaller, less affluent, alternative sites are doubly punished by ranking algorithms and lethargic searchers.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Stats: Search Behavior


About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • BradleyH

    This comes as no surprise to me. I’ve noticed anecdotally that often people place trust in high ranking pages and assume relevance. The “filthy linking rich” outcome follows naturally as a result.

    Another reason to pull traffic from sources other than search engines.

    Interesting stuff..

  • Adam Audette

    Something important to point out here:


    “Google Inc. provided partial funding for this research.”


    “Laura Granka is a User Experience Researcher at Google, Inc. She studies user behaviors in online search and uses eyetracking to build a comprehensive understanding of the search experience.”

    Another nice example of Google leveraging higher education to build a better search engine. (Not to mention leveraging PR to build brand trust.)

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