Surfers pay "little attention" to Google ads

COMPANIES RELYING on Google AdWords to sell their products or services online may need to rethink their strategies after new …

COMPANIES RELYING on Google AdWords to sell their products or services online may need to rethink their strategies after new research on how people read webpages found that many rarely pay attention to the advertisements.

The report carried out by the National e-learning Laboratory, part of the National College of Ireland, on behalf of Mulley Communications has found that Irish users of Google's search engine pay attention to the first four search results returned, and many ignore the sponsored links on the righthand side of the page.

The study, which tracked and recorded the eye movements of 27 subjects, mapped the movement of their eyes over the webpage.

The survey revealed that web users pay more attention to "organic" search results than to the advertisements placed on the page. Users also paid more attention to the highest-ranking result rather than sponsored links at the top of the page, it said.

The study revealed that those who participated in the study focused mainly on the top three results. The further down the page the result appeared, the less likely it was to be looked at.

Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications said this was the first time such research had been carried out in Ireland. Studies in other countries had come to similar conclusions, he said.

"There was no proof that this was happening in Ireland. Because we're culturally different and we're not as experienced on the internet, I wanted to see if it was the same," he said.

Despite the findings, Mr Mulley said he was not advocating that businesses abandon Google AdWords and other similar campaigns. However, he said those who wanted to advertise online needed to start considering additional approaches rather than working with one entity.

"While the survey shows a lot of people look at the top banner ad if it's there and don't look at the righthand side whatsoever or just barely glance at it, there are still a small percentage who do, and when you've got billions of searches a day that can add up. But it's not the be-all and end-all of marketing yourself online," he said.

Many people are turning to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to provide them with advice and informed opinions. "The way people are finding information online is changing. People are asking Twitter first before they go to Google," said Mr Mulley.

"The likes of Facebook and Twitter themselves are becoming almost 'recommendation engines'. It's not just information that people are looking for when they go online – they are looking for recommendations. Google doesn't seem to be as effective when it comes to that."

People also rely on search engines to navigate to commonly-used websites such as Facebook or YouTube, the research found.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist