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AdWords uncovered: How users perceive the new Google search results page.

Google changes the order of ads (AdWords) on their results page, and the internet world is upside down. Is the competition for the best ad placement going to intensify, and are organic results going to lose impact? In their eye tracking study, the experts investigated how users really perceive the new results pages.

Facts Google Eye Tracking Study

How do users perceive Google’s search results?
  • 30 participants aged between 18 and 54 years
    (Ø 34 years)
  • 6 different search tasks
  • Eye tracking to record eye movements
  • Analysis of gaze point data by means of heat maps and gaze plots.
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Facts Google eye-tracking study

The new results page

In February 2016, Google changed the presentation of ads (AdWords) on the results pages, thus bringing it closer to the search experience on mobile devices. Unlike before, no ads are shown on the right hand side anymore. Instead, the ads are now at the top and bottom of the search results, with a maximum of 4 ads before the organic results, and a maximum of 3 ads at the bottom of the page.

There have already been many discussions around changed click rates, increasing competition for ad placement, and the question if the relevance of organic results is decreasing. One remaining open question was: How do users really interact with the new results page? We wanted to take a closer look at this. In an eye tracking study, we investigated how the users perceive the changed results pages.

Google knows a lot – the users too

Contrary to a common assumption, the users know a lot about the background of the search engine. The differentiation between ad results and organic result is a conscious one. Depending on the search intention, ads are given more or less attention. But in general, ads are having a bad time. Users understand that they are advertisements and, most of the time, systematically ignore them.

“Just because it is the first one, doesn’t mean it’s the best. Anyone can buy into that placement.”

Some participants conceded that ads can be useful in some situations, for example if they are looking for a specific provider and already know what they want.

Organic results are more important than ever

The eye-tracking analysis shows that even though, depending on the query, the ads push the organic results far down the page, the latter did not lose importance – on the contrary. In all queries, most of the attention lay on the organic results. The gaze of many participants could be observed to jump from the search box immediately to the first organic result, barely fixating the ads at all.

Heatmap organic results
The organic results receive most of the attention

Search intention is an important influencing factor

Heatmap search intention
When looking for a photo book, ads are fixated considerably more often.

How intensely ads are considered also depends on the search intention. Especially in transactional queries (the user wants to perform a transaction, e.g. order, book, or download something), ads are considered more often, as they could be relevant.

“If I already know which company I want, and I see it there, I sometimes click on the ad.”


Our eye tracking study enabled us to introduce a new perspective to the discussion about the new Google search results pages. It became very clear how experienced and self-determined users go about their internet queries these days. The results show how important it is to adapt search engine marketing to the users’ course of action – it is the only way to guarantee success.

Want to know more? All results from the study, with detailed analyses and further visualizations, are made available to you in a PDF-Document.

Download study as PDF

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Cover Google eye-tracking study