Why do people click on Paid Search ads?

In December, the leading B2B research company Clutch conducted an investigation with the purpose of identifying the reasons why consumers click on paid search ads. Focusing specifically on why people click on advertising on Google, Amazon, Bing, YouTube as well as other platforms in which paid advertising appears amongst organic listings, the study considered factors like whether consumers were aware they were clicking on a paid advertisement as well as the purpose of their initial search.

The 506 participants that took part in the study had last clicked on a paid search ad within the past month and ranged between the ages of 18-55+. The participants in the study were made up of:

  • 54% Millennials (18-34)
  • 36% Generation X (35-54)
  • 10% Baby Boomers (55+)
  • 66% Female
  • 33% Male

The findings showed that the primary reason that users click on paid search ads is to find the most relevant information for their search query. What is deemed relevant was dependent on the platform they were using, as well as the specific information they were searching for. The study concluded that:

Most people are able to distinguish between a paid search ad and an organic result.

77% of participants said that they could confidently identify a paid search ad as opposed to an organic search result. This ultimately means that businesses must create ads that are found to be relevant by users or else they will be overlooked in favour of organic search results. Unless you are providing that information, users are aware that they can scroll down a bit further in order to find something that will answer their query better than your ad has. The benefit of this is that you are not just earning more clicks; you are also proving to customers that you are a reliable brand.


On the whole, people generally felt that paid search ads provided the answers they were looking for.

75% of participants said that they successfully found the information they were searching for by clicking on paid search ads. This is a really encouraging outcome, given that it indicates people trust advertisers when they deliver a positive and useful customer experience. In doing so, you’ll build trust, brand awareness and loyalty in customers.

Ads that directly answer the search query are the most likely to get clicked on.

Over one-third of participants (33%) clicked on a paid search ad because it provided a direct answer to their search query. This makes sense because one of the main reasons that people search is to find specific information, meaning that their search has a particular purpose. If you are able to fulfil that purpose by providing a clear, direct and relevant answer to their question then you are more likely to get clicks.

The way to execute relevancy in your ads is to spend a lot of time on your keyword research; determine how frequently your target audience use a keyword in a search, the competition for it and its average bid price. This insight into how people are searching will help you tailor your ads to deliver relevancy and engage potential customers.

Google is the platform that receives the most clicks on its paid search ads.

Compared to other search platforms, people are much more likely to click on a paid search ad on Google. 63% of participants said that they clicked on paid search ads on Google, whilst 14% said that they had on Amazon, 9% said that they had done so on YouTube and 6% on Bing. This is because Google is regarded as the go-to destination for finding information online; processing billions of searches every day, it has become the most popular platform for advertising worldwide because of its huge volume of active daily users.

With this in mind, within the 55+ age category, 13% said that they were more inclined to click a paid search ad on Bing, and less likely to click on Google ads (57%). For businesses targeting specific age groups, it is important to consider the search engines where you are publishing your ads as part of your wider targeting strategy.

Text ads receive the most clicks compared other formats like shopping and video ads.

Almost half of the participants (49%) said that they would click on a Text ad whilst a third (31%) were more likely to click a shopping/product listing ad.

The format of ads that people are most likely to click on is dependent on the platform they are using.

Out of those who clicked a paid search ad on Google, over half (55%) said that they preferred text ads over other formats. 50% of people who clicked on Amazon ads said that they preferred shopping/product listing ads whilst video was the preferred format for 36% of people who clicked on YouTube ads. These findings are unsurprising given that the reasons for visiting these sites will differ from user to user, based on the intent of their search and the purpose of the site.

Ads that mention the name of a Brand get the most engagement on Amazon and YouTube.

Users who search online for information about retail, goods and videos are more likely to engage with an ad that directly mentions a recognisable brand. Over a quarter of users (26%) will click on an ad because it includes the name of a brand that they are familiar with. On YouTube and Amazon, this is the most common reason that people will click on an ad (33%).

Further, out of the baby boomer age cohort (55+), 40% clicked on ads that mentioned a familiar brand because they placed more trust in them.

Click through rates improved when paid search ads appeared on multiple platforms.

When users saw paid search ads for the same business across multiple platforms, they were more likely to engage. Some people prefer to get information from videos, whereas others will prefer to read information on a dedicated landing page. By publishing ads over multiple platforms, you are able to tailor the experience for individual people’s preferences, as well as alter the content on your landing pages for each ad format to reflect this. What’s more, having a cross-platform strategy gives you the opportunity to deliver a consistent and recognisable brand message over multiple channels.

Final thoughts

Whilst the findings of this study do provide some useful information for advertisers, it has its limitations. Namely, there was a varied and uneven mix of participants, which could have skewed the results. Given that over half of those involved in this research study belonged to the millennial generation (18-34), and only 10% were above the age of 55, it is unsurprising that over three-quarters of people said that they were able to recognise paid search ads from organic listings. Had there been a higher proportion of older aged Internet users, the figures may have been lower. Furthermore, two-thirds of the study were females whilst one third was male, making it unclear how much of an influence gender had on the study.

Discounting the empirical faults of this study, however, one of the crucial learning’s that can be taken away from this report is that consumers that are able to identify search ads, expect to see them delivering answers and solutions to their problem (or search intent). If ads cannot fulfil this purpose, then users know they can find the relevant information elsewhere on the SERPs, and this is what advertisers should be focusing on


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