Google, Yahoo sponsored links don’t pass muster

Sponsored links are a money maker for search engines, but a study out today consumers click on sponsored listings fewer than two times out of every 10 searches, suggesting users prefer organic or non-sponsored links. The data for the study was provided by Dogpile, a metasearch engine which combines both types of links into a single listing although sponsored links are clearly labeled as such. Those sponsored links come from Google and Yahoo! through a contractual agreement with Dogpile. More than 4.2 million page views along with 1.8 million queries from about 666,600 users were analyzed. The Pennsylvania State University study used a search engine's transaction log to perform one of the first-ever academic studies of sponsored-link click through using actual search engine data, said Jim Jansen, an assistant professor in Penn State’s  College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and lead author of the study. Sponsored links are search engines' primary revenue makers, with Google and Yahoo! reporting billions of yearly earnings. But search engines not surprisingly reveal less about consumers' overall click-through rates. Popular press reports of those rates range from 15 to 35%, Jansen said in a statement. In the current study, Jansen theorized that given consumers' bias against sponsored links, search engines' separation of sponsored and non-sponsored links might be doing a disserve to searchers and to the businesses which invest in sponsored links. So his goal was to determine whether integrating sponsored links into organic results would increase the click-through rate.  "The increase didn't happen," Jansen said in a statement.Previous research by Jansen involving a page of results from a fictitious search engine suggested that consumers are suspicious of sponsored links placed in highlighted columns on the right or at the top of the results page. In that study, participants clicked on the results identified as "organic" on more than 80% of their searches rather than to sponsored links even though many of the organic results were actually re-written sponsored links. The analysis revealed that 35% of searchers don't click on sponsored or non-sponsored links perhaps because they found what they were looking for on the search-results page or because they decided nothing on the page was relevant. When searchers did click, 84% of the clicks were on non-sponsored links and 16% were on sponsored links. The study is described in an article, "Sponsored Search: Is Money a Motivator for Providing Relevant Results"" that has been published in the August issue of IEEE Computer.Penn State researchers recently developed a search engine—TableSeer—which not only can identify and extract tables from PDF documents but also can index and rank the search results using factors including the table’s title, text references to the table and date of publication.  The engine’s ranking algorithm, TableRank, also can identify tables found in frequently cited documents and weigh that factor as well in the search results.Search wars are a growing topic of discussion as thousands of companies and millions of users try to capitalize on multiple technologies.  

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