Google the Gatekeeper: How Search Components Affect Clicks and Attention

Proceedings of the Seventeenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media

The contemporary Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) supplements classic blue hyperlinks with complex components. These components produce tensions between searchers, 3rd-party websites, and Google itself over clicks and attention. In this study, we examine 12 SERP components from two categories: (1) extracted results (e.g., featured-snippets) and (2) Google Services (e.g., shopping-ads) to determine their effect on peoples’ behavior. We measure behavior with two variables: (1) click- through rate (CTR) to Google’s own domains versus 3rd-party domains and (2) time spent on the SERP. We apply causal inference methods to an ecologically valid trace dataset comprising 477,485 SERPs from 1,756 participants. We find that multiple components substantially increase CTR to Google domains, while others decrease CTR and increase time on the SERP. These findings may inform efforts to regulate the design of powerful intermediary platforms like Google.