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Spot Check By AP Reveals Most Engines Slow to Respond To FTC Requests



8:46 pm on Jul 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

A spot check by the Associated Press is just out as to how the engines are dealing, if at all, to the requests made by the FTC re: Commerical Watch.

From the article,
"To gauge the search engines' response, The Associated Press submitted a series of random queries this week."

"The spot checks found few changes had been made, even though it appears all but one of the surveyed search engines will have to make revisions to meet the FTC's guidelines."

"The AP reviewed search engines at a dozen sites: Alltheweb, AOL, AltaVista, AskJeeves, Google, Hotbot, Looksmart, Lycos, MSN, Overture, Netscape and Yahoo."

"Google was the only search engine that appeared to meet all the criteria laid out by regulators."

Full-Text at:


8:51 pm on Jul 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

AV has at least tried to comply...


2:58 am on Jul 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Gasp! It's a real shocker to learn that self discipline does not work! I was so sure they would rush to identify their paid listings as such and bring down their click rate in favor of the free relevant results.


3:33 am on Jul 12, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member chiyo is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I'm not surprised.

If SE's were to take the FTC seriously, (as i exect they will have to eventually) it may well cut a swathe through the second tier meta-search industry like Mama, ixquick, Findwhat etc etc where sometimes most listings are PPC. Even on top tier engines, the "value" of a PPC listing will decrease the more obvious it is that it is a "sponsored" listing.

On quite a few meta search engines, (well known ones at that) a query for "asia" brings up a n*de picture site on top courtesy of one PPC provider. That is pretty obvious, but its the more subtle ones that will be most affected.


1:12 am on Jul 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

"they will have to eventually" maybe but meanwhile each passing day brings extra $$$ to them. The slower the better.

I like that part in the article: "Most of those surveyed -- 60 percent -- weren't even aware search engines received money to list some sites more prominently"

We have high ranking and hate to pay for PPC. The day it will be labeled as advertising, we will pop Champagne. And with all the money we will save, probably we will get caviar too!


2:26 am on Jul 13, 2002 (gmt 0)

I will be curious on how the general public will react when they discover that sponsored
links are really advertising.

If the click thru rates drop to Banner ad rates, then Overture will be closing it doors.

This is going to cost the PPC Search Engines companies a fortune.
Can the FTC ruling be appealed, and have the courts tie it up for years.
After all, justice delayed is justice delivered.


1:27 am on Jul 14, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Meanwhile it's costing us a fortune! Naturally, people with a bad ranking are happy about the actual click rate on PPC.


2:00 am on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator skibum is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

It's hard to predict if it will be good or bad for the PPC listings. If the engines had been upfront about it to begin with, the PPC listings might have done very well.

Clearly marking them as advertising now could make them more effective. The key issue may be trust. Once word gets around and the average Joe or Jane learns that they've been fed disguised advertising in what seem to be objective search results, they may not have too much faith in SERP's.

Google has proven that a clear distinction between advertising and search results can be profitable. If the others had taken this approach from the start, they may have had similar successes and avoided any FTC attention and the credibility gap they've created.


3:32 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

I see nothing unclear about "Our Sponsored results"

We currently have our major keywords showing near the top of the unsponsored (free listings), and we get good results.

We have a large batch of minor (but targeted) keywords, which is difficult to maintain in the top free listings.

The minor keywords do not cost much for PPC, and we thus keep these in the Paid Sponsored listings.

In this way, we get the best of both worlds.

For everybody who is complaining about about the cost of PPC, sit down for a few hours in a brainstrorming session, and come up with a hundred, relevant but minor keywords. Your PPC costs will come down, and they will bring in just as much traffic as your major keywords, but at significantly less costs.

For this reason, I hope Overture can ignore the FTC, or take a lesson from Microsoft, on how to rout the goverment (please lets not start a thread on Microsoft here).


3:34 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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5:27 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

>> Even on top tier engines, the "value" of a PPC listing will decrease the more obvious it is that it is a "sponsored" listing<<

Of course it will... it will decrease as the deception is rumbled by those being deceived.

Frankly, they will not change this policy until they are forced to. They are getting away with earning money through blatant deception - they are not going to stop until the punishment outweighs the benefits of the crime. Did anyone really expect ethics from some of these players?

The sooner the legislators throw the book at them the better.


5:46 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Am I missing something?

I don't see the distinction as clearly as most. In my field, real estate, ALL sites are advertising and the only difference between sponsored sites and the others is that some site owners are more willing to cough up the bucks for placement while the others rely on SEO skills.

From a consumer standpoint there is little or no difference between sponsored and optimized results.

I know how disappointing it can be to have slaved over a site for years only to be trumped by a newbie with bucks to burn. Almost seems like cheating, but that's the current game.

If sponsored sites need to be identified clearly, then perhaps the optimized sites should also carry some sort of warning...

"Site owner has optimized for high placement"
"Site may be heavily laden with keywords"
"Watch for invisible text"
"May contain 100's of meaningless links"
"You may be served a different (cloaked)page"
"This page may be a doorway to the real site"

Don't get me wrong. I don't like Overture and the whole PPC syndrome any more than the rest. But for the time being, I'm paying AND optimizing.


6:14 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

>> Am I missing something?<<

I think so.

The paid sites are adverts. No argument there. They should be marked as such.

The other sites are provided on the basis of a search engine algorithm. OK, SEO is essentially about manipulating for that algorithm, but equally, the SE is constantly upgrading and enhancing the algorithm for relevancy to defeat this.

Who wins that battle for a particular term is not relevant. The fact is that the SE is attempting to produce results on relevancy... on the basis of what most punters actually want.

No problem there then - TWO types of return:

a) Paid adverts
b) Returns based of the SEs attempts to produce as much relevancy as possible, without financial inducement.

The fact that some people try ot subvert the latter is not material. What IS material is that the SE should state CLEARLY what basis the returns are produced on. It's called honesty... and that is all that is wanted from them.


7:59 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Napoleon, you seem to suggest that the non-paid sites are not adverts. Am I wrong... or is it the PAID part?


8:52 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

It is the basis on which the site is delivered that is important:
a) Is it on the basis direct remuneration... which is an advert
b) Or is it on the basis of an algorithm which purports or attempts to (or is generally understood to) rank on relevancy.

Patantly, the first is direct paid placement (advert). Equally clearly second is not... the SE has not been paid to place the sites there. That is an important distinction and one that the FTC quite rightly wishes to see.

Of course the site served in any case might be selling something, but that isn't the issue at all. The issue is that when an SE serves a site for money it should say so. It should call that an advert and not deceive the searcher by placing it with the normal returns unmarked.

Open, clear, unambiguous and honest. As I mentioned last time, it is hardly a lot to ask.


11:38 pm on Jul 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Why do none of these articles focus on MSN?!?!? Surely the least FTC compliant serps around.


5:49 am on Jul 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

That's impossible to argue with Feeder.... they should certainly be the first target of the FTC campaign.


12:16 pm on Jul 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

AV tried to comply?!

I heard that they were fairly adamant that, because the sponsored links were listed under the heading "Products and Services".. that they felt that was adequate differentiation...!



10:01 pm on Jul 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

<<The issue is that when an SE serves a site for money it should say so. It should call that an advert and not deceive the searcher by placing it with the normal returns unmarked. >>

"Sponsored Search Listings," "Sponsored Sites," "Sponsor Matches" - CLEARLY LABELED. What IS a sponsored search engine if it's not one that's 'sponsored'...paid for?! How is this "unmarked?"

It doesn't need to be further labeled "advertisement," and technically it's not. It's not an unsolicited banner ad or spam. If it has no 'relevance' to the search term then it shouldn't appear in the results... why would there be relevancy requirements? And I see totally irrelevant results on major 'non-paid' search engine results all the time.

If someone's searching on Overture itself (or another ppc) it shows a 'price paid.' Where's the unclear, ambiguous, dishonest factor there? Your argument is further completely dependent upon the search term. If someone is looking for 'online house plans' and he/she gets results which give him/her exactly that...where's the problem. If I hurt my back and am looking for a 'back brace' I don't go to a shopping mall...and I'm looking for someone to sell me a back brace.

A result has a title and a description...where's the hidden agenda there? If it's not what you want don't click it on.

And as far as 'financial inducement'...without financial inducements you'd see a lot less search engines out there.


10:05 pm on Jul 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

"AV tried to comply?!"

I guess you haven't check AV recently... They now call it "Sponsored Matches" and have a little info link that goes to an explanation...


5:01 am on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Zoron, I do not sponsor anybody (check your dictionary). I pay to get listed in the top 3: it's a paid listing. Or you can say that it's advertising and my ad gets shown if it's in the top 3 bids. What's wrong with being honest and simply say so: Paid listings or Advertising? What is the objective of PPC-speak?

If it's "CLEARLY LABELED" as you say, how come 60% of users do not know that I am paying to get listed in the top 3? 60% of surfers are dummies?


8:56 am on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

And if they were "clearly labelled" the FTC would not be involved now.

The listings are not clearly labelled, and that decision is pre-meditated. If they were clearly labelled fewer people would click on them and thus lead to less revenue for the SE, hence the decision to deceive by not marking the adverts accordingly.

No-one is claiming that an SE should not have the right to return paid results if they choose, but when they do, surely they must describe them as such... assuming integrity.

By the way, some better news... I've just been to Alta Vista and the title of the adverts was no longer "Products and Services" but "Sponsored Matches". Not there yet of course (they should call them adverts) but certainly a good step in the right direction.


2:43 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

How about calling them "Our Bread And Butter"


3:28 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

If the FTC is forcing search engines to disclose
paid listings, then perhaps they should force this
on other industries.

Perhaps the Yellow Pages and BillBoard signs should
have a warning indicated that the advertiser paid
a fee to get listed or displayed.


3:39 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

>> Perhaps the Yellow Pages and BillBoard signs should have a warning indicated that the advertiser paid a fee to get listed or displayed.<<

But neither of these are returning entries under the auspices of relevancy, and then deceptively inserting adverts in disguise.

The issue is deception and honesty, that is all. If the SE's tell the truth there is no issue. However, if they continue to deceive and con their constituents, the FTC will no doubt continue to press, and hopefully take strong and forceful action... the sooner the better.


3:44 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

""Sponsored Matches". Not there yet of course"

From my understanding this should comply with the FTC suggestions..

This is no different than how google is labeling them, and the FTC has already stated that google complies...


3:48 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

You are correct Seth... but it's the old territorial thing again. 'Sponsored' doesn't mean the same as 'advert' where I come from, even though it is accepted as such in some parts of the world.

However, advert is globally understood, and in my view should therefore be the term used. That would be the most descriptive and honest approach, but I guess pretty unlikely... sadly.


4:18 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Webster defines an advertisement as "a public notice intended to advertise something". Using this definition, there is no difference between paid and free listings.
Using the "advertisement" label conjurs up the image of a newspaper ad deceptively posing as an news item with a heading like "Scientists discover miracle cure for ringworm". Again, the analogy doesn't fit.
Most of the engines have opted for "sponsored listings" or some "sponsor" variation. This still doesn't exactly describe the situation, but it's close. Webster's sponsor: "a business firm that pays the cost of a radio or television program in return for advertising time during its course".
Without sinking into the abyss of techno-babble, PC-speak and the like, I'm at a loss to come up with a more desirable description for this category.

Any ideas?


4:20 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Mundonet, a paid listing is not advertising? I guess the Yellow Pages are falsely labeled then. Both you and Napolean seem to be arguing dogmatic semantics. "Sponsor" from my dictionary: "a business firm that pays the cost...of a program, usu. in return for advertising..."

Re 60% of users not being aware, if that's even an accurate figure, I do not believe that labeling it "advertisement" over "sponsored listing" would improve user awareness. I'm sure there are a lot of other things SE users don't have a clue about, including the 'basics' of performing searches...that prevent them from obtaining desired results. If a user finds what he's looking for he's happy...sponsored listing or supposed untainted non-paid result. The title and description should also be a clue to this relevancy. 'You' must think 'surfers' are dummies. Your logic certainly seems flawed to me.

Napolean, you continue to argue a moot point...'sponsored matches'/'sponsored listings' clearly describes it as such. A third grader knows what a sponsor is, if nothing else from TV's "...and now a word from our sponsor."

I see NO INTENT to deceive whatsoever and in the FTC's 'infinite wisdom' will not bicker over the semantics of it all, just the clear labeling as such. I'm certain that the FTC's reaction is more in response to those SE's who don't use labels and the metasearch engines who simply list the unlabeled results.

Perhaps it's a control issue with you guys. Your way or no way. I don't see the FTC rulings being so fixed and confining. The bottom line disclosure/clarity is the issue not how it has to be spelled to the letter. Mark my words...the major PPCs will not change their 'sponsored' labels...there' no need to. It's perfectly clear should one choose to read it.


4:27 pm on Jul 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

And just where do you come from, Napolean. [I won't use a cheap shot here like France or Elba].

The FTC is a U.S. government agency and has no jurisdiction over anything outside the U.S. In the U.S. "sponsor(ed)" is clearly understood to mean 'paid advertiser.'

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