A new study suggests there's only one place worth doing it.
Users pretty much ignore search ads, a new eye-tracking study says.
So-called organic search results were viewed 100 percent of the time, and study participants—the study was conducted by user experience research firm User Centric—spent an average of 14.7 and 10.7 seconds looking at them on Google and Bing, respectively. (For tips on search engine optimization, click here.)
But just over one-quarter of participants (28 percent) looked at right-side ads on Google, and just 21 percent did on Microsoft's Bing. Total time they spent viewing all ads combined on each search engine: Around one second. So basically, they spent more time checking out both sites' left-hand navigation than they did looking at ads on both search engines, the research reveals.
One study caveat: The environment was artificial, with the participants given search terms to use and perhaps not using their favorite search engine—unlikely, though, considering that Bing, which powers Yahoo, in February overtook Yahoo for the first time worldwide, according to analytics firm StatCounter. The Microsoft engine closed out the month with a 4.37 percent search share compared with Yahoo's 3.93 percent. Both were dwarfed by Google, though, which grabbed 89.94 percent of the global market.
About the searches themselves: Two were informational ("healthy food" and "landscaping") and two were what the study calls transactional ("engagement ring" and "last minute vacations").
The research also revealed that Google's top sponsored results get more attention than Bing's. Ninety percent of the participants looked at the sponsored results on both sites, though participants spent more time looking at Google's (2.8 seconds per search task, on average) than on Bing (1.9 seconds). Google's top sponsored results also got more facetime per result (0.9 seconds compared to 0.7 seconds for Bing).
The higher gaze time on Google "was likely due to the fact that…Google typically produced more information per link than Bing," notes the study. That's because Google's top sponsored results tend to have two lines of text compared to one on Bing, plus a Google Checkout button next to some of the links. "The additional information may be the reason participants spent more time in the top sponsored results," says the study.
Bottom line: Put your ads above the organic search results, where the hit rate was more than three times higher and the gaze time more than five times longer than on the sponsored links on the right. Deciding between Google and Bing? "Keep in mind that ad placement among the top sponsored results on Google attracted 22 percent more attention than an equivalent placement on Bing," concludes the research.
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.