40% of Customers Don’t Know that Google Adwords are Adverts

We were testing aspects of the digital customer experience as part of end-to-end customer experience research for a well known insurance company. During these tests we noted that the vast majority of the customers (81/100) clicked on Google Adwords rather than the natural search results.

The size of this bias was little bit surprising, but what was even more surprising were the reasons behind this behaviour

Google Adwords

41 out of the 100 people tested did not know that the listing in the yellow boxes (Google adwords) were paid for adverts. The heat map shows where participants focussed their attention, the closer to red, the more people looked at it.

Many of the people tested (41/100) didn’t know that the Adwords were paid for adverts (Note: the participants were not Internet newbies, they were all people who had previously purchased their car insurance online, and made other online purchases).

When we asked participants what they thought the Adwords were (and why they were appearing at the top of their search results) typical responses included:

“…the first 3 that meet my search criteria, presumably the best.”

“…best match for what you have put in the search. They have got the words that you have put in or are the most popular.”

“…the most searched I guess.”

This is a reminder that you are not your customer:

If you are reading this post you are probably a marketing professional and/or have more than a passing interest in digital marketing, and user experience – unfortunately that disqualifies you from thinking and behaving like your customers.

It can be really dangerous to assume that the simple ‘common’ knowledge that you have is actually shared among the population at large. This phenomenon is called the ‘false consensus effect’ – a common cognitive bias.

If even simple things like the Google ads being ads are misinterpreted, then what about more complex propositions, interactions or design patterns? How can we make sure these are received and acted upon in the way that we want or need for success? The answer of course is simple – you need to test these things with your customers – and remember to test their behaviour NOT their opinions.

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Robert Stevens is co-founder of world leading behavioural research consultancy

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