Incorporating Google Ads into Information Literacy Instruction


According to an article by The Verge’s James Vincent, many teens can’t tell the difference between ads and search results in Google. He reports that researchers at UK’s telecoms watchdog Ofcom discovered that approximately only 33% of 12-15 year olds and 20% of children between the ages of 8-11 were able to tell the difference between Google advertisements and search results. This article comes at a time where privacy issues are coming to the forefront of many online discussions (Greenwald, 2014; Henry, 2012; Valdes, 2015) and librarians are working hard to ensure that students are properly informed during their online research.

As librarians are now well aware of, growing up in the digital age doesn’t guarantee research savvy. Additionally, many students have an over-inflated perception of their search abilities leading to mistakes when it comes to academic research (Georgas, 2014). Google and many other companies use advertisements that are designed to look very similar to organic content (which includes the “promoted” posts that Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook implement in users’ social media feeds). What was fascinating to me is that while I have never had a problem bypassing Google Ads, organic search results are not as easily differentiated between by the iGen and millennial generations.

The aforementioned Verge article got me thinking about the next generation of academic library users and how they will be needing additional instruction when it comes to academic research. Also, even though the article is does not report data on undergraduate (and graduate) students, I think ad word instruction would also benefit them. Below are a few ideas of how to incorporate Google ad instruction into your information literacy sessions:

  • Point it out- Demonstrate how a search might include ads at the top of one’s search results list. You can also do this with social media platforms.

google ads vs search

  • Discuss how Google AdWords work– Understanding how and why certain links appear at the top of the page might help users understand the difference more intuitively. This Forbes article might be helpful. It also might open the door for a broader discussion about how online behavior is tracked by companies in order to better advertise to users (I like to use this Ghostery video when addressing this topic).
  • Compare database and Google searching– While many proprietary academic databases don’t have the same user experience that Google has, their search result rankings are more trustworthy.

These are just a few basic ideas. If you have any to share I’d love to hear about them!

1 Comment

  1. I agree that even pointing out the presence of sponsored links is really valuable. And I know advertisements must be important for google, but I wish they would find another way to monetize their business.