Ranking versus reputation: Perception and effects of search result credibility

Search engines play a key role for Internet users when searching for information. The vast majority of users are heavily influenced by the given ranking on the search engine results page (SERP). In this study, N = 222 university students were tasked to inform themselves about the working conditions in South Asia on the basis of given SERPs. Besides the ranking on the SERP, two credibility cues – the type of the website (news site, corporate website, research institute, and private blog) and the primary source of information mentioned in the search result (scientific study vs. corporate spokesperson) – were varied. Two research objectives were examined: the influence of the ranking and the credibility cues on the evaluation of search results; and the effect of both ranking and credibility cues on the selection. Credibility cues had a strong influence on the perception of the search results’ credibility. Students rated the credibility higher if search results linked to reputable websites or mentioned a neutral primary source of information. We also find an interaction effect between the type of website and the primary source of information. However, participants’ selection was mainly influenced by the ranking. Reasons for this discrepancy are discussed.

Haas, A., & Unkel, J. (2017). Ranking versus reputation: perception and effects of search result credibility. Behaviour & Information Technology, 36, 1285–1298. doi: 10.1080/0144929X.2017.1381166