Feb
8
2013

Survey Results: What Google Users Think About Privacy, Search Neutrality, & Google’s Competitors

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As SEOs, we’re constantly buried in news, opinions, theories, strategies, and anything and everything else related to Google. After awhile, it’s hard to even remember how a “normal” user interacts with the Big G. That’s why we ran a couple of surveys to get some perspective on how people feel about Google’s privacy policies, the neutrality of its search results and how the competition stacks up.

Some of the survey answers are hardly surprising, but I was particularly intrigued by two points:

  • Users don’t appear to support government involvement in search neutrality – only 20% of the respondents to our survey said they would support search neutrality legislation.
  • Privacy gets a lot of buzz, and consumers complain about it, but when we asked what factor(s) might make them switch to another search engine, only 1 user mentioned privacy!

1) Google’s Algorithms

Q: To the best of your knowledge, how does Google determine which webpages to return first when you perform a search?

44.2% felt that search results are ranked through a combination of manual/human factors and algorithms. This was slightly higher than the percentage of respondents that felt that Google’s computer algorithms alone determine which webpages to rank first (43.2%).
How does Google determine which webpages to return

According to Google’s official article entitled “Facts about Google and Competition,” the order of their search results are 100% algorithm driven. While Google does utilize quality raters, Google says these raters don’t directly impact rankings, but rather help measure how a particular algorithm is performing. Google also does on occasion manually penalize or remove webpages that are spam, illegal, or otherwise violate their guidelines.

2) User Satisfaction

Q: In general, how satisfied are you with Google in the following areas?
Overall, satisfaction with privacy and the number/quality of search ads lags slightly behind satisfaction with search results. 21.6% are dissatisfied with the way Google protects their privacy and personal information.
How satisfied are you with Google in the following areas

  • According to our sample, Google is doing a great job when it comes to the quality of its search results. Of the 500 people surveyed, 90% answered with “mostly satisfied” or “completely satisfied” when asked how they felt about the quality of the webpages returned in the search results.
  • While it’s also true that 62.2% of the people surveyed were satisfied overall with the way Google handles privacy, 21.6% fell on the opposite side of the spectrum. Though it’s difficult to determine exactly why without further investigation, it may have something to do with concerns related to remarketing ads and/or sharing data across Google services.

3) Other Search Engines

Q: In the past 6 months, which of the following search engines have you used?
69% have used Yahoo, Bing, Ask, or DuckDuckGo in the past 6 months.
Which of the following search engines have you used

Google is still king, but this large percentage of users who have at least tried other search engines recently may be an indication that they are far from untouchable. If users are using other search engines on occasion, then other search engines have the opportunity to deliver a better experience and win users away from Google.

4) Search Neutrality

Q: Some individuals have proposed legislation to govern how Google and other search engines rank webpages (search engines “rank” webpages to determine which webpages to display first when a user performs any given search). The stated goal would be to ensure search engines always rank webpages in an equal, objective, and unbiased manner. Would you favor or oppose passing such law(s)?
51.8% oppose search neutrality legislation, only 20% support it.
searchlegislation

Anytime Internet savvy users hear the word “legislation” in conjunction with the way the World Wide Web works it sends up red flags all over the place. Based on how people rated Google’s ability to deliver relevant results, most people seem to think Google is doing fine and that government oversight is undesirable. If the evolution of SEO has taught us anything, publishing a set of “objective” and precise factors that determine how websites are ranked will also bring us back to the keyword stuffing days when unscrupulous black-hatters simply gamed the system at every turn.

What Would Make You Switch?

We thought that the results of question #3 (In the past 6 months, which of the following search engines have you used?) were so interesting that we decided to run a side survey on “Google vs. Other Search Engines”. We had a smaller sample to work with (104 people) but we did discover a few interesting trends when we analyzed the results.

As expected, the vast majority (89.42%) chose Google as their “favorite” search engine.

However, when asked “What could another search engine do to make you decide to use it instead of Google,” we discovered:

  • For all the buzz/hype privacy gets (and the fact that nearly 20% in the first survey indicated they were displeased with Google’s privacy policies), only 1 person cited privacy as a potential motivator to switch away from Google.
  • Better quality results was the number 1 cited reason (about 42% of respondents) that a user would consider leaving Google.
  • The next biggest category (about 16% of respondents) was “nothing” – indicating Google has a pretty significant base of users who can’t envision ever switching to another engine.
  • A significant number (about 15% of respondents) also cited a more user-friendly interface, with several making fond mention of how simple Google’s SERPs used to be.

We know that a sample of 604 people is a very small cross section of the hundreds of millions of daily Internet users. But nonetheless, the results are very interesting in terms of gaining insight into the minds of web users.

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