Wouldn’t we like to know?  Yes, but apparently finding the answer is not as easy as one might think.  Jessica Lee, in an article for SearchEngineWatch.com reported on the results of two studies.  One showed that a huge majority clicked on organic search results first, and the other showed that most people clicked on paid first.

Both studies were conducted in the UK.  The first, a 2012 study conducted by GroupM UK and Nielsen which examined 1.4billion searches.  The results showed that 94% of users clicked on organic search first.

The second study was conducted by Bunnyfoot and showed 81 of 100 first clicked on AdWords over organic in Google search results.

So what do we conclude?  Other than there are no solid conclusions to draw from the studies?  Maybe we’re asking the worn question.  Can users even distinguish paid from organic results?

The best guess is no.  Research from both studies, as well as an additional one showed that most people cannot distinguish between paid and organic search.  They are simply looking for the keywords that match their search.

The next question is do users really care which are paid and which are organic search results?  My guess to this, it depends on the type of search they are conducting.  For example, I recently changed to an at&t cell phone.  I searched for “at&t stores” and got at&t in both search and organic.  I hit the first link to “store locations” that I saw, which happened to be paid.  It didn’t matter to me that it whether it was paid or organic.

On the other hand, if I’m doing research on a particular topic, I definitely try to stay away from paid material and use only organic.

We report on this because, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) recently sent out a letter to search engines asking them to more clearly delineate paid form organic results.  From the results of these studies, it may not matter at tall to the consumer.