Written By: Adam Dince
As someone who deeply cares about the authenticity and reputability of search engine results, I’m writing this letter to you with great concern. As you well know, over the years, the major search engines have intentionally blurred the line between paid advertisements and organic search results. I’m aware that you’ve been keeping an eye on this deceptive practice and have issued warnings in the past.
In 2002, you sent a letter to the major engines asking them to ensure that paid ads were distinguishable from natural search results. Then, in 2013, you sent another letter to the major engines reinforcing that directive.
“…The guidance advises that regardless of the precise form that search takes now or in the future, paid search results and other forms of advertising should be clearly distinguishable from natural search results.” – FTC
However, it appears as though some of the engines have continued to ignore your requests without penalty. In fact, paid and organic results have become even more indistinguishable since your letters. Here are a few examples:
Yahoo Search Results
In the screenshot below, do you believe that the average consumer can tell that each of the results rendered are advertisements?
Bing Search Results
In the screenshot below, while slightly more distinguishable than Yahoo, do you believe that the average consumer can differentiate paid from organic results?
For years, businesses have been required to strictly follow search engine quality guidelines. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Engines like Google have spent considerable time and resources researching what constitutes “good quality” and have aggressively enforced policies. However, when it comes to abiding by what the government asks of them, the major engines don’t seem to have the same fire in their bellies.
All I’m asking of you, the FTC, is to hold search engines accountable for what you’ve already asked them to do multiple times. Clearly differentiating paid and natural search results.
Please don’t take this letter as an, “I hate search engine ads” rant. I believe that search engine advertisements, like natural results, can be valuable to people searching for products and services. As a search marketer, I provide both natural and paid search services—I don’t discriminate. I’m just looking out for the everyday searcher who isn’t able to discern paid from organic listings.
I hope this message reaches the right people who will help bring back and preserve a clear non-deceptive searcher experience on search engine results pages.