User Testing is Key to Understanding People

In 2012 we carried out research investigating the effectiveness of Google AdWords. Our previous research indicated that 41% of people tested didn’t know that Google AdWords were ads. This year Google AdWords rolled out a new design which we tested, and gained some surprising results. What is proven again and again is the importance of user testing, never just assume!

Old Google AdWords Format: Our 2012 Results

In 2012 Econsultancy published the results of a study we did on behalf of a car insurance client.

The research revealed a number of interesting findings, including:

  • 41% of users tested did not know that the listings in the yellow boxes were ads
  • 81% of users tested clicked on Google AdWords results rather than organic search results


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2012 Google Ad format and heatmap from eyetracking in user testing

New Google AdWords Format: Our 2014 Results

At the beginning of this year, Google began rolling out the new format of their AdWords, presumably with the intention of making these paid results clearly distinguishable from organic search results.

Again Econsultancy published the results of our investigation and once again, the research revealed a number of interesting findings:

  • 36% of users tested did not realise that the listings with “Ad” written in yellow beside them were paid for results
  • 27% of users asked did not even know that Google had any form of advertising



New Google AdWords format and heatmap from eyetracking in user testing

What can we take away from this?

Despite the apparent increase of salience of the current design, our research would suggest that the changes have resulted in little difference in real-world recognition of what is an ad on the Google search results pages.

If it is truly important that people can distinguish ads from non-ads (and presumably avoiding potentially misleading consumers is important) then the current Google design has not made significant change to this.

As our hundreds of user tests over the last decade have shown, it is very difficult to predict what customers’ knowledge or understanding is. The clear value of  user testing can be seen with the sort of results seen above.

Breakdown of our 2014 testing:

  • Testing carried out in February 2014
  • 103 users tested
  • Various locations across London
  • Age range of 18-65 years
  • All use Google as their primary search engine

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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