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Abstract

Whether and how firms can employ relative rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs) to differentiate their brands from competitors in cyberspace remains a critical, puzzling issue in e-commerce research. By synthesizing relevant literature from cognitive psychology, marketing, and e-commerce, this study identifies key contextual factors that are conducive for creating brand positioning online via SERPs. In two experiments, the authors establish that when Internet users’ implicit beliefs (i.e., schema) about the meaning of the display order of search engine results are activated or heightened through feature priming, they will have better recall of an unknown brand that is displayed before the well-known brands in SERPs. Further, those with low Internet search skills tend to evaluate the unknown brand more favorably along the particular brand attribute that activates the search engine ranking schema. This research has both theoretical and practical implications for understanding the effectiveness of search engine optimization techniques.

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