Search Engine Marketing Firm iProspect Survey Confirms Users Find Natural Search Results Most Relevant in Google and Yahoo, While MSN Users Prefer Paid Search Advertising

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UsersÂ? Inability to Distinguish Natural Results from Paid Advertisements on MSN is Likely

iProspect®, the Original® Search Engine Marketing Firm, today announced more results from its recent Search Engine User Attitudes Survey that indicate:

*60.5 percent of Google, Yahoo!, MSN and AOL users selected a natural search result over paid search advertisements as the most relevant on a sample query

*60.8 percent of Yahoo! and 72.3 percent of Google search engine users chose a natural search result as the most relevant

*71.2 percent of MSN users clicked on a paid search advertisement as the most relevant to their search

*AOL users identified both natural search results and paid search advertisements equally as often as the most relevant

Looking specifically at the two largest search engines, according to market share, it is vital for online marketers to ensure that their Web pages are found in the natural search results of Google and Yahoo! More than 60 percent of Yahoo! users and over 72 percent of Google users clicked on a natural search result when looking for the most relevant listing for their query.

“These findings clearly indicate that in both search engines there is a wide gap between natural search preference and paid advertisement preference. This means marketers who fail to optimize for natural search or human-edited paid inclusion neglect a large percentage of user clicks and the relevant traffic,” stated iProspect CEO, Fredrick Marckini.

“This could bode well for Yahoo!’s revenue picture because, like Google, they receive the majority of their clicks in the natural results and unlike Google, Yahoo! has a way to monetize the actual search results through their Site Match Xchange program” said Robert Murray, President of iProspect. “What is interesting is that the Google IPO filing document stated that 95% of Google’s revenues come from their paid search ads – while the results of the iProspect survey indicates that less than 30% of their visitors click on those ads. Imagine the impact on Google’s revenues if they could find a way to get more people to click on their paid advertisements.”


During the survey, respondents were first asked if they use one search engine more than any other. Those who answered “yes” were asked which search engine they use most often. Those answering Google, Yahoo!, MSN or AOL were provided with a sample search result screen from their preferred search engine, displaying the results of a search for “used cars” and were asked to click on the result, on that page, which they found to be most relevant had they been in the market for a used car.

According to iProspect Director of Business Analytics, Dr. Naga Krothapalli, “this methodology ensured that these users were allowed to select a search result from the search engine with which they were most familiar. It ensured the greatest degree of accuracy by guaranteeing that a Yahoo! user was not asked to select a search result from AOL search results or a Google user was not asked to select a search result from an MSN search. In theory, each searcher who indicated a ‘preferred’ search engine, would be familiar with the layout of the search results from their engine of choice.”


The survey shows the opposite preference among users of MSN’s search engine. Over 71 percent of MSN users identified a paid search advertisement listing as being the most qualified result returned for their query.

“This could be attributed to how pay per click (PPC) ads are identified within MSN’s returned results. Users who may shy away from paid search listings when they see them may have difficulty distinguishing between the two types of results. Despite this potential case of mistaken identity, the survey shows it is important to have a strong paid search advertisement presence in this specific search engine, “Marckini added. “It will be important for search engine marketers to track these metrics going forward as Microsoft scraps their existing search service and replaces it with their new and improved search engine anticipated in the forth quarter. Because MSN’s new search service is rumored to be similar in look and feel to Google, it could change everything later this year.”

The survey also shows that users who listed AOL as their search engine of choice were evenly split on a preference for natural search results or paid advertisements as the best result to answer their query. Reasons for this split could range from the balance AOL employs between algorithms ranking organic search results and human-edited paid search advertisements, to paid advertisements being more clearly identified as such on AOL than on some engines. Nonetheless, this result shows online marketers who focus solely on one type of result will miss 50 percent of potential interest and traffic from Internet users. Focus within this search engine needs to be divided equally between the two types to have optimal results.

Search engine marketing firms that offer both natural search engine optimization and paid media management services can ensure their clients web pages are consistently found in both types of results in Google and Yahoo!, which leads to a more positive return on investment. According to Marckini, “taking a detailed look into how a particular search engine distinguishes between natural search results and paid search advertisements will allow online marketers to maximize visibility and increase traffic by tailoring their efforts to meet the users’ ‘preference’ of each engine.”


The iProspect Search Engine User Attitudes Survey was developed through a partnership between iProspect, WebSurveyor, Strategem Research, and Survey Sampling International (SSI). Completed in March 2004, there were 1,649 survey respondents. Data was collected using WebSurveyor’s online tool, and analyzed by both iProspect’s research department and Strategem Research. Proper attribution requires that the survey is clearly identified as “The iProspect Search Engine User Attitudes Survey.” Copies of the survey results can be obtained by contacting Deborah Hickey at


iProspect® is The Original® Search Engine Marketing Firm. The company helps many of the world’s most successful brands maximize their online marketing ROI through natural search engine optimization, paid inclusion management, pay per click management, Website analytics and website conversion enhancementSM services. iProspect has published three books on search engine positioning, including Achieving Top-10 Rankings in Internet Search Engines, and most recently, Search Engine Positioning. Distinguished as a 2003 Inc. 500 and Deloitte & Touche Fast 500 fastest growing company in America, iProspect is located in Watertown, Massachusetts and can be reached at 1 800-522-1152, or by visiting

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Deborah Hickey
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