Young people who have grown up with computers and are perhaps more educated than the average individual tend to just put their faith in whatever Google shows them when it comes to online research. A study determined that college students often click on the top search result regardless of other factors.
The study was backed by Northwestern University and involved 102 students, meaning it was a professional affair with a reasonable number of subjects. As for how it was conducted, the students were given different information-gathering tasks to perform, and researchers analyzed their approaches.
Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, concluded, "Search engine rankings seem extremely important. We found that a website's layout or content almost didn't even matter to the students. What mattered is that it was the number one result on Google."
For example, as reported by Erin White, a student responded to a question about a source by saying, "Oh, I don't know. The first thing that came up."
That could represent good or bad news depending on a person's position. Obviously, it puts webmasters with low-ranking sites at a disadvantage, signaling that they'll have trouble attracting young visitors. But the finding may prove reassuring to folks in the SEO industry, since it's more evidence that pursuing a top ranking is important.
Anyway, brands other than Google that students favored for one reason or another included AOL, Facebook, MapQuest, Microsoft, SparkNotes, Wikipedia, and Yahoo.