Web search engines act as gatekeepers when people search for information online. Research has shown that search engine users seem to trust the search engines’ ranking uncritically and mostly select top-ranked results. This study further examines search engine users’ selection behavior. Drawing from the credibility and information research literature, we test whether the presence or absence of certain credibility cues influences the selection probability of search engine results. In an observational study, participants (N = 247) completed two information research tasks on preset search engine results pages, on which three credibility cues (source reputation, message neutrality, and social recommendations) as well as the search result ranking were systematically varied. The results of our study confirm the significance of the ranking. Of the three credibility cues, only reputation had an additional effect on selection probabilities. Personal characteristics (prior knowledge about the researched issues, search engine usage patterns, etc.) did not influence the preference for search results linked with certain credibility cues. These findings are discussed in light of situational and contextual characteristics (e.g., involvement, low-cost scenarios).
Unkel, J., & Haas, A. (2017). The effects of credibility cues on the selection of search engine results. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68, 1850–1862. doi: 10.1002/asi.23820