|Have I been penalized..?Demanding greater search engine transparency|
Greater transparency needed in online search in India: New CIRC survey finds high user distrust of ads blending in online search resultsThe need for greater transparency in search, in particular regarding the anatomy of search results pages (SERPs), has been highlighted by One News Page founder Dr Marc Pinter-Krainer at a recent conference in Delhi, India.
NEW DELHI, India -- A new study of Indian internet users, conducted by the CUTS Institute for Regulation & Competition (CIRC) has revealed that paid advertising getting interspersed with natural search results is not quite what users want.
While a lot of research has been done on user perception about search in Europe and the US, this is the first time a study of this nature brings in a data-driven India perspective about internet search.
The pioneering study, which was conducted in the two metros of Delhi NCR and Mumbai, apart from Jaipur, throws up interesting user perceptions about search engines and search results. The study was conducted among 500 respondents, almost equitably divided among the three cities.
Speaking at the seminar, Mr A.K. Chauhan, Director-General of the Competition Commission of India (CCI), said: “The effects of the market conducts in the online space are yet to be understood on account of the complexities in the online ecosystem. The determination of the relevant market, both product and geographical, along with assessment of a dominant position, would require very sophisticated analysis. The findings of the pioneering survey will provide useful insights.”
Chairing the event, Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International said: “The exponential growth in the online market space has thrown new and complex regulatory challenges to the government in general and the CCI in particular.” Mehta highlighted the role of transparency and democracy in policies and conducts of dominant players in online markets. Continued growth, Mehta felt, of the online market, will depend a reasoned regulatory response.
Presenting the findings of the study, Dr Navneet Sharma, Director, CUTS Institute of Regulation and Competition, said: “the unattended issues emanating from the online markets, which affect consumers and SMEs alike, required primary research. This survey is a product of this demand.”
Speaking at the event, Founder and CEO of One News Page, Dr Marc Pinter-Krainer, shared his experiences about the evolution and monetisation of search results over the past 10 years. Corroborating the findings of the study, Dr Pinter-Krainer said: “Over the past 10 years, a significant rift has formed between what consumers perceive about what they see in search results and what is actually displayed to them. Particularly on Google, relevant organic search results are being increasingly replaced by advertisements and Google’s own services – often without the user realising it. There is an urgent need for greater transparency.”
Director-General (Policy) and Chief Economist of Nasscom, Anupam Khanna, underlined the importance of networks in online markets. “The purpose of regulation in a multi-sided market requires thorough considerations on parameters such as market failures, consumer protection, tax and fiscal reasons etc,” Khanna said.
Some of the key findings of the survey are as follows:
1) More than two-thirds of the respondents were active internet users (access the internet more than seven times a week)
2) 100% of respondents use online search
3) While the preference of web browsers was almost equally split among Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, all respondents preferred Google as their search engine. This highlights the level of faith users have in Google’s brand and search technology.
4) 31% of respondents were unaware that search engines also promote their own content alongside other websites and services. Almost half of them did not prefer search engines doing so.
5) 64% of respondents were aware that search engines capture user data from their searches, while 29% felt it was wrong, and wanted to switch search engines upon knowing this.
6) Almost one-third of the respondents clicked on the top ads, which accrue revenues for the search engine. A negligible 1% clicked on the side ad bar on the search results page. (In our experiment, top ads appeared on 90% of search result pages)
7) More than half of the respondents were unable to identify the top ad bar correctly. A comparatively lower 36% were unable to to identify the side ad bar on a search result page.
8) Almost two-thirds of the respondents in Jaipur were unable to spot the difference between natural search results and paid results.
9) Nearly half the respondents stated they would never or hardly ever click on search results that they knew were ads.
10) More than two-thirds of respondents felt that natural search results are more useful than ads.
11) Less than 30% of the respondents considered ads as trustworthy as natural results. Over 40% felt they should not appear above natural results
There is a need for enhancing awareness on the science of search monetization, and for more transparency in search results, from a consumer trust perspective.
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