Articles

Hide and Seek on Search Engines

In search engines, Uncategorized on September 19, 2009 by gingercatmom

It’s not enough for a business to just have a website today. In fact most customers expect that businesses will have websites and after taking a few guesses at a company’s URL (“hmm, was it joespizza.com or was it joespizzashop.com?”) most of us will turn to a search engine to find the site we have in mind. It’s just so easy to type in the request and our destination is just clicks away…and it’s a function that we have come to expect and trust online

However, major search engines have been charged with deceptive advertising practices. Advertisers pay to have their sites listed prominently in the ranking of search results-a practice known as paid placement. They may also pay a fee for paid inclusion, to increase the chance that the site will appear somewhere within the search results. This is all part of a practice known as Search Engine Optimization. It’s logical that any business that spends the resources to develop a site wants it to be seen, to be used and ultimately to provide a return on investment.

Consumer Reports WebWatch research shows that many search sites don’t do a very good job of informing consumers about the advertising forces at play on the site. Critics argue that a search engine that just identifies “sponsored links” in another color or in a slightly shaded box is not doing enough and that more needs to be done to help search users understand the reasoning behind the ranking of search results.

A Princeton Survey Research Associates Study found that more than 60% of respondents didn’t know that paid placement was common at many search engines. I wonder why search engines are not willing to be transparent with their advertising policies? For the search engine, is the primary customer the advertiser or the end user? Transparency with customers ultimately generates trust–and today’s search engine user might be tomorrow’s search engine advertising customer!

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