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Google’s Better, But They Like Yahoo

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Another clue that perception, not truth, is what you can expect from people comes out of Penn State today. A study reveals that Web searchers prefer Yahoo over Google; the only problem is, they chose a logo, not a search engine.

This was a small study, with just 32 participants. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see it replicated on a larger scale to better understand the impact branding has on the psyche, especially since the results seem consistent with other branding studies with Coke vs. Pepsi.

The study was conducted by researchers at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology. The researchers copied results from four different search engines: Google, MSN Live Search, Yahoo! and one they developed specifically for the study.

They took those results, combined them to make identical results for four queries: "camping Mexico," "laser removal," "manufactured home," and "techno music." Despite that the results were identical, the study participants picked Yahoo! as the most relevant, with Google and MSN (in third again, it would seem) trailing behind.

The in-house non-branded engine the researchers created did the worst, rated 10 percent below average.

"Given that there was no difference in the results, all of the search engines should have had the exact same score," said Jim Jansen, assistant professor and lead researcher. "Some emotional branding is having an effect here."

The results mirror a study conducted in 2004 that compared participants cola preferences. In that study, brain scans revealed that when participants knew which cola (Coke or Pepsi) they were drinking, the regions of the brain associated with memory and cultural influences were activated, and affected their preferences.

"[T]here are visual images and marketing messages that have insinuated themselves into the nervous systems of humans that consume the drinks," the researchers concluded.

They also found that, when brands were known, Coke was cola of choice, trouncing Pepsi, whose brand had no influence. 

Google’s Better, But They Like Yahoo
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  • Frank

    Seems to me you’re making the same “mistake” in your headline. You didn’t mention that you analyzed the search results that G, Y and M actually returned for those queries (not the fake results used in the study), yet you entitle your post “Google’s better…” Could it be that you have the same brand type of brand bias that you claim the study participants have?

    • Jason Lee Miller

      The headline was more of play on words to encapsulate the tale, at least that was the intent, but I can see how it can be taken that way. Also, which I didn’t mention in the article many of the participants responded in a pre-study interview that they preferred Google, yet they selected Yahoo as the most relevant.

      Mea Culpa.