How Does Ranking Affect User Choice in Online Search?

Mark Glick, Greg Richards, Margarita Sapozhnikov, and Paul Seabright


This paper investigates whether a search engine’s ordering of algorithmic results has an important effect on website traffic. A website’s ranking on a search engine results page is positively correlated with the clicks that it receives. This could result from the search engine’s accurately predicting the websites relevance to users. Or it could result from users merely clicking on the highest ranked links, regardless of the website’s relevance. Using a unique dataset, we find that a website’s rank, not just its relevance, strongly and significantly affects the likelihood of a click. We also find evidence that rank influences CTRs partly by controlling access to the scarce attention of users, but primarily by substituting the reputational capital of the search engine for the reputation of individual websites.


Internet search; Page rank; Click-through rates; Scarce attention;

JEL codes

  • D03: Behavioral Microeconomics • Underlying Principles
  • D12: Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
  • D83: Search • Learning • Information and Knowledge • Communication • Belief

Published in

Review of Industrial Organization, vol. 5, n. 2, September 2014, pp. 99–119