In a study done by Northwestern University, it was found that college students, for their research work, prefer the top ranked sites on search engines rather than the sites they are finding through those searches, thus affecting the quality of research. As any Internet professional would tell you, a site ranking on top in search engines has more to do with its search engine optimization (SEO) than its authority on the topic. However, the study shows that students do not seem to care too much about a site’s credibility and used information from it as long as it was ranked on the top.
Ars Technica reports:
The researchers observed 102 college freshmen performing searches on a computer for specific information—usually with Google, but also making use of Yahoo, SparkNotes, MapQuest, Microsoft, Wikipedia, AOL, and Facebook. Most students clicked on the first search result no matter what it was, and more than a quarter of respondents said explicitly that they chose it because it was the first result. “In some cases, the respondent regarded the search engine as the relevant entity for which to evaluate trustworthiness, rather than the Web site that contained the information,” wrote researchers Eszter Hargittai, Lindsay Fullerton, Ericka Menchen-Trevino, and Kristin Yates Thomas.
The study also deduced that students put a lot of value on search engine brands and the credibility of their search rankings:
The paper quoted numerous students professing their particular love for Google, or talking about how Microsoft’s search services are credible because Microsoft is a “more professional” company—basically, search engine brands meant a lot to the students using them, and those students seem to place credibility on the automated search rankings provided by those services.