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Consumer watchdog accuses search engines of deception Part 1

I knew it!



12:43 am on Jul 17, 2001 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

MSNBC [msnbc.com]

"The group said that the search engines are abandoning objective formulas to determine the order of their listed results, and selling the top spots to the highest bidders without making adequate disclosures to Web surfers"


3:09 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

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

It seems the real heart of this complaint is simply in the labeling of advertising. Plain and simple, identify an ad as an ad. Distinguish a paid placement as such.

IMHO, the difference between paid anything and SEO, is that it is impossible to GUARENTEE a specific placement on a given search engine through optimization. Probably even all but the most brilliant minds could not guarentee a number one ranking for a competitive search like "travel" even if we sat down with a search engineer and saw exactly how the algorithm worked. Anything that wieghs to any significant degree off page criteria, is going to be virtually impossible to crack and REMAIN there month after month, as the right amount of cash can do in a PPC or similar arrangement.

As Brett mentioned earlier there have often been paid product placements in movies, TV, etc, and while this is in some way similar, it is also completely different. People watch movies and TV, presumably to be entertained. Does anyone really give a hoot if James Bond is paid by BMW to drive one in a movie? Maybe the folks at Mercedes, but the public presumably goes to the movies or watches TV for ENTERTAINMENT. In the case of the infomertial which may be created in such a way that it resembles a newscast, regulations are laid down to prevent outright deception.

Why do people use search engines? Click your mouse if you use search engines as a form of entertainment. The power still appears to be on in California, so apparently not to many people clicked. People use search engines to find information, presumably objective information. In this case, search engine results and the information they provide are the sole reason for utilizing a search engine. In a movie, the action, romance, or mystery is the primary focus. Product placements are secondary, and they do not deceive anyone in anyway, nor do misrepresent anything in anyway.

There is nothing wrong with paid listings, they just need to be labeled as such. If people really don't care about this type of thing, then why the uproar when Amazon was exchanging favorable well placed reviews for cold hard cash.


5:04 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

The question of whether you pay an SEO expert to construct doorway pages, or pay an SE for placement, is a minor question, assuming that the end user is unaware of why certain keywords bring certain sites to the top in each of those cases.

A more fundamental problem, ethically speaking, is the nature of the keywords that are targeted. If the targeted keywords compete with nonprofit sites that offer substantive, noncommercial information, and cause those sites to rank so far under the optimized sites that the user doesn't notice the information due to a diminished signal-to-noise ratio, then the paid placement is unethical in both cases -- the case of the SEO _and_ the case of the unmarked or poorly marked PPC.

SEOs have a responsibility to optimize commercial sites for keywords that do not compete with nonprofit, noncommercial information. They should also offer reduced rates for legitimate nonprofits. Similarly, search engines have a responsibility to give .edu, .gov, and .org sited a "hand tweak" in the rankings. Unfortunately, the awareness of this responsibility is so low on the part of both SEOs and SEs that it takes a Ralph Nader to wake us up.

Otherwise, the World Wide Web will soon be the World Wide Wasteland. We were doing fine before Wall Street discovered us, and by now many of us feel that the dot-coms need to keep crashing, crashing, crashing. Then we'll be able to recover in about five years, at which point the voracious capitalists will start another gold rush, and ruin it once again.

I wouldn't worry about the engines crashing too, or about the SEOs running out of clients. At some point a university or foundation will sponsor something like Google, if Google can't cut it and has to sell out. Google has already made a huge contribution, simply by proving that quality engines are indeed possible if you invest a little brainpower into the algorithms.


6:21 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Glad to see someone is going after the spamming search engines. It's high time someone polices the police!


8:48 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

I think it make sense to go with paid listings. It's going to get horrid for all of us when the rest of the world really gets a hang of the net and we have to compete with someone in every other house on the planet making webpages. Yes, it's about monopoly but I really can't think of a better way to protect it. At least by bidding on terms, we can keep some of the potential mavericks in the 3rd world from eating from our plate. Some of us now, in spite of the difficulties can make a putsch in the engines, but I don't care to compete in a "free" environment with the repressed masses of the world.


9:00 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

>> but I don't care to compete in a "free" environment with the repressed masses of the world. <<

Without even knowing it, this guy sells my argument of the evils of PPC superbly.

Free, information sharing open environment? Or just another medium for the usual multi-nationals, where the small guy simply picks up the odd crumb.

Take your pick, commercially, ethically and morally.


9:38 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

It's about protecting our economy, and more importantly our personal ability to make a nice living. I drive a decent car and live in a new house due to the internet. I'm sure there are many other Americans out there who managed the same. Turning the internet into a communist virtual state is not the answer! We were able to cash in on the internet because of the overall strength of the American Economy. Some poor soul in say ..Angola can't sell crap to the Angolans because they don't have any money. They are going to try and sell to us. I can see the idealism in what you guys want. Heck, I would want that too, but it is not practical.
I remember when people were complaining about the $200 with LookSmart. I bought a couple dozen of those deals and got a 10000% return on it. Now Imagine if you were to do away with the fees and allow everyone to submit for free. I would'nt of been able to buy that swimming pool or a new motorcycle for my kid.
I don't care for Leninist Philosophy when it comes to making money and enjoying a decent standard of living.


9:45 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

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

Heck, and I thought curious was just joking in his initial post.. Making clear what is advertising, advertorial or whatever is just good long term business sense and honesty no matter where you come from in the world.


9:48 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

I hope curiousgeorgeII can sleep at night... well actually I don't.

Quite apart from my distaste for your arguments (and by the way, I'm not American), the freedom of the net (when it was free) extended to everyone who had access... and I am not thinking about narrow nationalism as you seem to be.

The extension of this, which is the most important, is to allow free competition, or as free as we can make it, without necessitating big budgets.

Neither you nor I would have made any money from the net if it was totally commercial and driven by PPC. We just couldn't compete with the big multis... take for instance traditional advertising as your role model.

I would like future generations, and newbies, to be able to do what I have done and succeed.... unfettered by financial shortcoming.

I guess I want the door open for everyone.. regardless of financial muscle, nationality or any other arbitrary constraint. You evidently wish to close the door firmly behind you.


11:01 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

there seems to be a problem with perspective here...lets try to focus on what happens overall

Joe Bloggs wants a widget...he fires up his web browser and goes to NiftySearch.com...he types in "widgets" or "+widgets +myhometown" and hits the search button

he then gets a list of sites which may or may not have a competitive deal on widgets...if he gets a good deal he will feel warm and fuzzy toward NiftySearch...and may even make a sensible business decision to use them again...Acme Widgets sell him a widget

this much is real and indisputable...the basic transaction is Joe buying a Widget from Acme widgets...but now we all want a slice of the action

if an SEO is responsible for Acme Widgets ranking higher than Widgets'r'us then they deserve a cut...if the SEO is responsible for Megagadgets.com ranking higher than either then they don't deserve payment unless Joe also went to Megagadgets and bought something...if he just went to the Megagadgets site and got ticked off because they don't sell widgets then neither the SEO nor the NiftySearch deserve any credit...they've not done business and they've upset the customer

all this talk about click rates and SE rankings as if they have some real commercial existence is self centred nonsense unless you constantly compare it to the bottom line

that's why banner ads are dying out...and that's why the future of the web relies on targeting not spamming


11:25 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member


When the net was free for all, it was basically a playground for technofreaks, and the general public werent interested. Therefore the corporates werent interested, becuase there was no market, as the majority of early internet users possess the same fiercely independent ideals that you do (which is a good thing IMO)

Now the general public is involved, there is a market, therefore the big boys are attracted

Even with PPC etc, the net is still a more eqitable medium than any other. It has its shortcomings, and there is NO WAY of avoiding the fact that large budgets will ALWAYS be able to attract more people. The great thing about the Internet though, is that due to the vast choice, no matter how large your budget, no matter how many Joes you attract, you cant force any of them to buy, or even to come back again

In the long run, only quality sites will survive. There have been a lot of very big, very well funded sites fold over the last several months, from Boo.com onwards. Their financial muscle did them no good, because they didnt provide what people wanted at a reasonable cost: market forces in action

Conversely, a lot of smaller sites are still around, not making much yet, but surviving. Eventually, they will grow, and become successful. A lot of the SEs are prime examples. Some of todays top engines didnt exist 5 years ago. How many other industries can match that? And if they fumble the ball, somone else will move in and take the traffic. Thats as fair as it gets

The thing is, freedom of choice leaves the potential for people to make choices we dont like. If the public wants a commercial internet, thats what they'll get. If enough people dont like that, an alternative will arise, and it will look much like the old days of the internet


11:38 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

>> Even with PPC etc, the net is still a more eqitable medium than any other. <<

Agreed... as long as PPC does not become totally dominant and the only search source Joe Public uses (whether he knows it or not!).

Under that scenario, the net will be like the traditional media, it will be totally different in character to what it is now.

This is a realistic scenario. Big corporates will love PPC, because it is a shortcut to control... a shortcut to chopping out all the small competitors.

Small guys can compete with traditional SEO because they can be clever, research hard and build good relevant sites. Small guys cannot (or will not be able) to compete in a PPC world because it is budget driven. The 100% PPC world would actually be very similar to the SmartTag world.

The argument is not about today, it is about the shape of tomorrow.


11:43 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

Hey I know it is not fair. But who said it was or the world for that matter. The bottom line is I have a family to support and I am not going to sacrifice my family's well being over "brotherly love". If it takes a pay per click model to keep out the "free for all" horde, so let it be done. Hey,I would love to get free traffic forever but the whole arguement does not make any sense. Who will pay the engine staff? Pay for bandwidth? Taxes? Ok then lets just ban all commercial sites and I can go back to being a wage slave. You can't have a "free" engine for the masses. Decent drinking water even costs money, who will pay for this stuff?

Most importantly, how are you going to compete with millions of webmasters? I'm sure the robot engines will be around for a good while, still a point will arrive when there will be so many people trying to sell on the net, getting a listing in the top ten will be like winning the lotto. There are no alternatives.


11:44 am on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Its quite likely that curiousgeorge may have expressed his views rather inelegantly but the basis for them is largely correct. This thread is concerned with the labelling of paid listings so lets start at the start.

Portals carry paid listings because they need the money. They can no longer give the positions away, any more than a magazine can give adverts away. The upside to this is that, like a magazine they can now carry other content, in the case of search engines this means other non-paid listings.

These paid listings are no more than glorified banner adverts. The argument of this thread is the extent to which they are distinguished from banner adverts.

Curiousgeorge's viewpoint is understandable given that the internet is largely an American invention and the American search engines are by and large repositories of global websites. This is not protectionism, these are market forces. Any international organisation can place an advert/listing/seo-enhanced placing on the search engine if they have the money- this is as fair as the listings can be.

If the search engine does not display paid listings then it will not have the money to crawl the non-profit sites and they will not get the exposure anyway.

The bottom line, as TallTroll states is that market forces and consumer choice will find the true level. If a user is looking for information, clicks on a paid listing but then finds that the site only wants to sell stuff, they will click off the site and the paid listing was a waste of money. Perhaps the company will no longer target that keyword combination.

I don't think that commercialism will take over the search engines. They will be happy to provide users with 4 relevant non-commercial searches if the 5 search results in a user clicking a listing and then making a purchase. If the user can not get non-commercial search results then they will move over to another search engine or at least one which clearly separates the two- cue the inexorable rise of Google and any other engine which gets the balance right.


12:04 pm on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

>> market forces and consumer choice will find the true level. <<

That may well be the case, but it does not excuse deceipt (presenting ads as relevant returns) to help it on its way.

Nor does it mean that we shouldn't strive to keep the net as open, accessible and usefull to ALL users as possible.


12:28 pm on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator lawman is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Maybe a three-tiered structure would be appropriate, to wit:

Tier one - PPC, featured sites, partners, or whatever you want to call them. Clearly paid for placement.

Tier two - Highly optimized sites (presumeably by professionals).

Tier three - The Horde.

Let the market decide. By the way, anyone have any ideas on how I could get optimized for Tier three?


1:25 pm on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I stealth edited 4 posts in this thread at the request of several members who felt their were racial overtones in a few posts.

This is a question about the search engines - lets stick to that.


3:08 pm on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

I think (prequalifing my post :) ) that in the end the listings will fall somewhere between Curious and Napoleon. Search Engines need money to keep the lights on and to buy Curious his car so they will have paid listings, the will probably be labled somehow (Alta Vista and Looksmart said theirs were labeled [a pr move] meaning that the search engines realize that with public out cry/education they will need to be marked separate). While the Net is getting more expensive for the Mom and Pop sites to get their piece, it is still more price effective than offline advertising. The problem for the end user that I see in PPC is that the listings will become similiar across the search engines. Course this will lead to the #3 search engine promoting the fact that they don't have paid listings and are different than all the others (ain't competition great!). My $.02


5:42 pm on Jul 18, 2001 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Continued in Part Two [webmasterworld.com]
This 48 message thread spans 2 pages: 48

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