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BizReport : Search Marketing : June 26, 2013

FTC tells search engines to better distinguish paid from organic results

Have search engines been doing enough to distinguish clearly between organic search results, paid search results and ads? Not according to the Federal Trade Commission, who this week notified several search engines that they need to do better.

by Helen Leggatt

In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection wrote to search engines advising them of the potential for consumers to be deceived by not prominently distinguishing between organic and paid search results, or other advertising on their websites.

While search engines embraced the guidance given at the time, a letter sent out by the FTC to seven search engines this week indicates that, since then, there has been a decline in compliance.

The updated guidelines contained in the letter emphasize "the need for visual cues, labels, or other techniques to effectively distinguish advertisements, in order to avoid misleading consumers". Also noted was that the background shading used by some search engines to distinguish ads from organic results had become "significantly less visible".

Those search engines that don't follow the rules could find themselves open to investigation and found to be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, leading to fines.

"We encourage you to review your websites or other methods of displaying search results, including your use of specialized search, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising," says the FTC letter. "In addition, as your business may change in response to consumers' search demands, the disclosure techniques you use for advertising should keep pace with innovations in how and where you deliver information to consumers."

Image via Shutterstock

Tags: advertising, organic search, paid search, search ads, search engine, search results, SERPS

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  • tommariner

    "found to be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, leading to fines." -- How about the federal government doing the wonderful job they are running the country (sarcasm intended) and just publicize the results that those using certain search engines are being cheated by the search firms selling the results rather than representing the searcher?

    Naw, we're too stupid to stop using a search engine if it cheats. I wouldn't trust the American public either! (OK, more sarcasm.)



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