Over at Search Engine Watch, Gary Price points out a paper about consumer bias against paid listings.

Expectedly, researchers found that consumers exhibit a bias for organic listings over sponsored listings. Eye tracking studies and user experience research have said the same thing before, so this is nothing new.

Search users are in the mindset of fulfilling a task. Naturally they will look at organic listings first (due to the way listings are presented), so if they are able to fulfill their task with the organic listings, there is less of a drive to investigate sponsored listings.

This study, however, does provide some very vital insight on how consumers judge the relevancy of sponsored links. Researchers discovered that consumers believed sponsored links were less relevant to their queries than organic links. But after viewing the content of a sponsored link, consumers felt that the sponsored link’s content was as relevant as content from an organic link.

Data showed “that Summary (67%) is the primary basis that searchers use to determine if a sponsored link is relevant. Title (56%) is the primary basis for determining that a sponsored result is not relevant…Summary (42%) and Title (41%) are the primary basis that searchers use to determine if an organic link is relevant. Title (60%) is the primary basis for determining that an organic result is not relevant.”

Interestingly, only ~11% of the sponsored links marked as non relevant were determined by location or the “sponsored” label. That means out of all the determining factors for relevancy, location and sponsorship play the smallest part.

So what does that all mean?

This study subtly highlights how important it is for search engine marketing experts to focus on their copy. With titles and summaries playing such an important role in determining relevancy (and thus click through rate) – search engine marketers cannot rely solely on budgets and rank positioning for good returns.

Search engine marketing is no different from any other marketing medium. You need to find the best way to connect with your audience. So if you aren’t already targeting your ad copy for relevancy, you should. Even after you’ve launched your initial ad, keep testing and tweaking those titles and descriptions.

Read my previous article if you need some tips on writing better web page titles. The tips are geared more for organic web page titles, but you adapt many of the tips for paid listings.

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