Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, November 15, 2004

Search Engines And Paid Placement

How obvious is it to you when using a search engine that the results you are getting are what you should be getting? Are you aware that some of the results are actually paid for by advertisers? In other words, a company will pay the search engine a fee for ensuring that their content appears very high up the list of search results when you type in certain keywords.

Whether you find this acceptable or not is up to you of course. However, it would be useful at least to know whether a particular search engine you are about to use does or does not include 'paid placement' and/or 'paid inclusion', the two main methods of incorporating advertising into search results.


Paid placement programs charge advertisers a fee in exchange for higher rankings within search results.

Paid inclusion programs also charge a fee, but only to ensure a site's listing within a search engine's full index of possible results, but without a guarantee of ranking.



In a report written by By Jørgen J. Wouters entitled 'Searching for Disclosure: How Search Engines Alert Consumers to the Presence of Advertising in Search Results' which has recently been published by Consumer WebWatch, research reveals that there are some very considerable variations in the way some search engines explain business relationships with advertisers to their users.

The research covered 15 major search engines, namely:

  • 1stBlaze

  • AltaVista

  • AOL Search

  • Ask Jeeves

  • CNET's

  • Google

  • InfoSpace Web Search

  • Lycos Network Search

  • MSN Search

  • My Search

  • My Way Search

  • Netscape Search

  • Overture

  • Web Search

  • Yahoo! Search

The results of the research found that disclosure of advertising relationships and transparency practices among many search engines were found to be confusing and confounding.

"That increases the likelihood consumers may have a difficult time distinguishing objective search results from paid advertising."

The Report's key findings are:

  • Paid inclusion was not satisfactorily disclosed or explained by any of the search engines tested.

  • Meta-engines, which present results from several search engines simultaneously, repeatedly failed to adequately disclose the presence of paid placement and paid inclusion within search results.

  • Disclosures are generally hard to find, accessible by headings and hyperlinks that often blend in with the page, making them easy for consumers to overlook.

  • Information disclosed by the sites on business practices with advertisers -- and how these practices may affect search results -- was often confusing and jargon-laden.

  • Some engines, like Google, took pains to visually segregate paid results from non-paid results. Consumers may want to avoid others, like 1st Blaze, because of inadequate or absent disclosures that undermine the integrity of search results.

Consumer WebWatch is a three-year, grant-funded project of Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, the Consumer Reports Travel Letter and the Consumer Reports Health Letter. Through research, through the promotion of guidelines for best practices and other analytical means, they seek to improve consumer trust in the World Wide Web.

Jørgen J. Wouters -
Reference: Consumer WebWatch [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
blog comments powered by Disqus
posted by on Monday, November 15 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




Real Time Web Analytics