To Click or Not To Click? An Experimental Investigation into Users' Avoidance of Sponsored Search Results

Project: Research

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Online sponsorships are commonly applied in search engines to promote sponsors’ links (e.g.,links to their products and websites). Sponsored search provides necessary revenue streams tosearch engine providers. However, searchers likely avoid sponsored search results (SSR).SSR avoidance reduces the click-through rate of SSR and negatively influences theeffectiveness of the business model of sponsored search.This project aims to theorize and test the effects of online social influence cues onreducing users’ SSR avoidance. I plan to conduct this project in the context ofconsumer-to-consumer e-commerce, in which consumers search for products and sellers andthe website then returns a search results page of relevant products and sellers including SSRand organic results. This project focuses on two types of online social influence cues. Onetype is informational influence cue (e.g., prior consumers’ ratings on the quality of sponsoredproducts and sales volumes of sponsored products). The other type is normative influence cue(e.g., “views” of the sponsored products from friends in online social network sites).Three subprojects are proposed. The first two subprojects will be conducted in a scenariowhere a SSR matches exactly the search queries of users. In this context, SSR avoidance isdriven by implicit theories of consumers regarding sponsored products (e.g., lack ofpopularity or low quality). The first subproject will focus on informational influence cues andintends to reveal the conditions in which a particular informational influence cue will exert itseffects on SSR avoidance by using a contingency approach. In particular, I theorize matchingeffects of informational influence cues on SSR avoidance. That is, an informational cue caneffectively reduce SSR avoidance only when the cue (e.g., prior consumers’ positive ratingson the quality of a sponsored product) matches an implicit theory (e.g., low quality ofsponsored products) that is active at the time of judgment.The second subproject will focus on normative influence cues. I theorize the effect ofnormative social influence cues according to Burnstein’s choice shift theory. I argue that inthe presence of normative cues, users will conform to those influential others who viewed theSSR, thereby leading to lower SSR avoidance.The third subproject will be conducted in a different scenario where the SSR deviatesfrom search queries of users with respect to their preferred product brand. I intend toinvestigate whether various social influence cues will still be effective in reducing SSRavoidance under this scenario.A series of laboratory experiments will be conducted to collect data. The project will beamong the early research endeavors that examine the underlying mechanisms of SSRavoidance from the theoretical perspectives of implicit theories on SSR and social influence.The project will help practitioners effectively utilize social influence cues to reduce SSRavoidance; thus the viability of a sponsored search model will be promoted.


Project number9042414
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/12/1630/12/21

    Research areas

  • IT Usage Behavior , Implicit Theories , Social Influence , Avoidance , Consumer Preference