Survey Shows Americans Confused By How Google, Facebook Make Money

A new survey from Harris Interactive on behalf of The Search Agency finds, among other things, that large numbers of people in the US don’t really understand how Facebook and Google make money. The online survey was conducted in August 2012 with a sample of just over 2,000 adults.

The Search Agency (via Harris) asked whether people agreed with the question “I understand how Facebook makes money.” A slight majority (54 percent) said that they strongly or somewhat agreed. On the flip side, 46 percent essentially did not understand.

However even among the 54 percent who said they understood, 36 percent were more tentative, indicating that they only “somewhat” understood. More specific details were not explored in the survey.

When it came to search engine revenues, people did better. Just over three-fourths (78 percent) understood that search engines made money through advertising “that runs with search results.” But there were also other companion answers; users were permitted to “select all that apply.”

A striking 36 percent of respondents thought that search engines “sell users’ personal data to marketers.” Another 29 percent thought that “companies pay annual dues for use.” It’s not entirely clear what that means other than the perception of enterprise fees or maybe “pay to play” for rankings.

Finally, 20 percent thought that users pay search engines for “premium features.”

Respondents were also asked about whether they clicked on ads appearing in search engine results. Overall 22 percent said they did. However more educated and affluent respondents were less likely to click compared with those with less education or lower incomes.

Source: The Search Agency/Harris Interactive (n=2,006 US adults)

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Google: Web Search | Microsoft: Bing | Stats: General | Stats: Search Behavior | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Robert Connor

    Easy to see how the average internet user could be confused how the big players make money.

  • Raghava Kotla

    It seems ultimate increase in internet users are from big social networks(ad agency) and top search engines(search agency)

  • theprone

    Average internet user doesn’t understand that their privacy is blown when using their products, when they are being blown, they will stop using it. Happened to my mom and siblings. They facetime’d me asking me about the Scroogled campaign, and I nod, and told them it was true.

  • George Michie

    The fun follow up question to the folks who say they don’t click on the ads on search engines: “Great, can you point out the ads?” In spite of the labels, few people seem to understand that the first two or three listings (promoted positions) in the tan (currently) box are ads, and fewer still probably think the Product Listing Ads are. They’re clearly marked, but people don’t read, and because the ads are actually useful, people don’t really care, either.

  • Yitzboy Weiss

    I would disagree that the sponsored ads are clearly marked. The tan color is now so washed out that on some monitors it looks like white on white. Hey isn’t that kind of against Google’s SEO guidelines?

  • treepodia

    Evil tongues would say Facebook is also confused on how it’s making money.
    Jokes aside, this isn’t exactly exuberantly reassuring: seems the ones that click the most are of somewhat lower value.

  • RankWatch

    That’s really true Robert, many wouldn’t bother about how these companies are making high profits. But still a very interesting topic to choose for a research. I still think that large no. of people are really not clear about the way Facebook & AOL gets its revenue even though they use these sites on day to day basis.

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