While I was browsing the web yesterday, I came across an interesting study on the effect of brand awareness on the evaluation of search engine results (PDF). Basically, the entire study boiled down to a series of tests in which search engine users were provided identical results for a query, but those results were branded as coming from one of 4 different search engines, namely Google, MSN, Yahoo, and an in house search called AI2RS.
In the study the researchers found that given identical results, users are overwhelmingly more likely to trust those coming from Yahoo and Google over those coming from a different engine. In fact, users generally claimed Google and Yahoo results were superior to other engine results despite the actual results returned being identical. While you might say this was a foreseeable conclusion, it’s still interesting to note just how much branding effects a user’s trust when it comes to working with the Web. This is very similar to a study performed last year in Germany that looked at MRI brain scans of people reacting emotionally to different brands.
So, what exactly does this mean for your online business?
I think clearly it shows that users on the web are no different than consumers walking into your average brick and mortar based business. They identify with brands and they establish a trust with those brands. This trust results in several things, but most notably is their willingness to do repeat business with the brand and also to implicitly trust their recommendations and enhancements.
It’s these traits that you need to take into consideration when deciding many aspects of your web presence such as advertising your products and services or even simply where to focus your search ranking efforts. For example, what converts better sales, being number 1 on Ask.com or number 15 on Yahoo? While you may get more clicks at Ask, you may not get as many converting customers simply due to the trust issue.
Food for thought, and definitely something every one of us needs to think about when running an online business. One thing I would be interested to try is all three companies have respective advertising networks, and I wonder if promoting Google products converts much better than converting the others? I’d wager on yes, simple because of the brand name associated with it…What do you think?