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False Oracles: Consumer Reaction to Learning the Truth About How Search Engines Work

In this study on search engines and navigation sites, Consumer WebWatch decided to use an ethnographic or anthropological approach in order to dive deeper into how consumers use these popular Web navigational points-of-entry. We also wanted more confirmation that web consumers are still largely unaware of paid search, and that such paid results might influence the ranking of their search results. We also wanted to assess whether consumers could tell the difference between paid search results and pure or algorithmic search results, or not, whether they understood “About” or disclosure links, whether their behavior would change as they learned more about paid search, to alert the industry to potential credibility problems that current marketing and advertising practices could bring, and to call attention to concerns or inadequacies in the FTC recommendations to search engines to make their practices more transparent.