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View Poll Results: How would you like to see paid inclusion listings disclosed?
They should be flagged in someway right on the search results page 8 34.78%
They should be physically separated from other listings 8 34.78%
I'd like an option to flag listings on the results page should I want to 2 8.70%
I don't think they need to be flagged at all! 5 21.74%
Voters: 23. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 06-17-2004   #1
dannysullivan
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How (or Should) Paid Inclusion Be Disclosed?

I've just posted the third part of my series on paid inclusion, Going Beyond FTC Paid Inclusion Disclosure Guidelines. It covers issues about how or even whether paid inclusion ought to be disclosed. What do you think? Add your comments below and/or vote in the poll above.

Last edited by dannysullivan : 06-17-2004 at 09:05 AM.
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Old 06-17-2004   #2
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I agree, all we need is a little indicator. Yahoo does it all over the place with these little icons. Example: http://dir.yahoo.com/Computers_and_I...ization__SEO_/

See the sun glasses next to the Search Engine Watch listing.

Does it really take away? It actually makes those sites stand out. Should they stand out a little? Why not? They are paying. The icon can be less eye-catching...

I am for disclosure through labeling.
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Old 06-17-2004   #3
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"for those who care."

Can we see the forest for the trees? Danny - one of the more poignant points you wrote over and over was "for those who care."

Would an average user give this more than one seconds thought? Nope.

The forest that we need to see is profitability. Is this track, long term, more profitable for Yahoo!? And I think Yahoo! has already answered that question. Now, it could be more profitable from the stand-point that they in-fact will have a better search engine one day and hence attract more users and subsequently more ad dollars. Or it might be more profitable because they are monetizing more of their real estate.
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Old 06-17-2004   #4
Carlos Chacón
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"Search engines business"

Hello guys;
Paid inclusion is the only way to get the top positions over the search engines listings. The question is, why we have to pay to get listed if the Internet is free? There is one reason: The search engines business.
So, think about it... The search engines need to receive money from us! At this point, if you and me are paying good money to be placed, we deserve a big exposure than just the non-paying results. We pay money to get something.... right? Not even us as sponsors, also the millions of people who use the Internet -search engines- needs to know and have knowledge that who’s the business people who "invest" their money to have a global brand.

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Old 06-17-2004   #5
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I'll take the opposite view just for the fun of it.

Why should an engine need to distinguish between paid and not paid listings? Apparently, a great many people think that "good" web sites will rise to the top naturally. These people believe that web sites in the top spots, deserve their positions and have earned the top spot because they are the best web site for a given query.

The fact is, more often than not, the web site in the top spot has paid to be there. They may not have paid the engine directly, but paid an SEO company to put them in the top spot with methods that often violate the search engines TOS. Granted, plenty of top spots also go to "ethical SEO", but paid for just the same.

Until an engine exists that can't be manipulated by SEO, most top results are paid for, in one way or another.
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Old 06-17-2004   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unreviewed
I'll take the opposite view just for the fun of it.

Why should an engine need to distinguish between paid and not paid listings? Apparently, a great many people think that "good" web sites will rise to the top naturally. These people believe that web sites in the top spots, deserve their positions and have earned the top spot because they are the best web site for a given query.

The fact is, more often than not, the web site in the top spot has paid to be there. They may not have paid the engine directly, but paid an SEO company to put them in the top spot with methods that often violate the search engines TOS. Granted, plenty of top spots also go to "ethical SEO", but paid for just the same.

Until an engine exists that can't be manipulated by SEO, most top results are paid for, in one way or another.
absolutely spot on 10/10

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Old 06-17-2004   #7
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>The fact is, more often than not, the web site in the top spot has paid to be there

I think there is a huge difference between paying a lawyer and paying a judge, do you?
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Old 06-17-2004   #8
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Top placement does not mean top sites

Originally Posted by unreviewed
I'll take the opposite view just for the fun of it.

The fact is, more often than not, the web site in the top spot has paid to be there. They may not have paid the engine directly, but paid an SEO company to put them in the top spot with methods that often violate the search engines

I am also agreeing with you. When the people just search and fine the results, they think wrong....
Top placement does not mean Top Quality Web Pages
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Old 06-17-2004   #9
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Paid or not, its still how you or the client deems the ROI factor of the positioning to coversions


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Old 06-17-2004   #10
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"I think there is a huge difference between paying a lawyer and paying a judge, do you?"

Absolutely! (and I love the way you phrased that)

But just for the sake of argumentum, ... Justus is blind, especially if you pay.

Last edited by unreviewed : 06-17-2004 at 06:53 PM.
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Old 06-17-2004   #11
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Danny, I'm wondering if the blue dot will confuse searchers. If they don't understand what they mean, they may think this is a mark of value. The eye may be drawn to those with the dot. :-)

So, setting the preference for "those who care" might be a better approach. This way it is the "informed" who can get the information they want and the average searcher isn't inadvertantly drawing a conclusion that's not accurate.
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Old 06-17-2004   #12
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lol

Some great posts to this dilema, but it appears that we are all still in the dark.

Funny thing is the Overture people arranged for me to have a chat with one of the Site Match senior people and even he had a poor grasp on what they were trying to achieve and how it worked or how it could be isolated...

They ultimately gave me contacts to their third party resellers who they thought had a better grasp of it... I will try them next and get back.

In NYC when they rolled it out during SES they were saying they would have editors looking over them and have a separate level of keywords and descriptions.. but that did not happen... wonder how many people jumped in then and then opted out and got listings dumped...

I think a lot of Yahoo's problems would be lessened if they at least allowed people to know how to isolate the paid listings and then make the decision on whether to try it.

After all an informed consumer is a good consumer.
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Old 06-17-2004   #13
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Designating which listings are paid makes sense to me. It would give the users a clear idea of paid vs natural listings. The more you can do for the user to provide information for them, the better.
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Old 06-17-2004   #14
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On questions like this I sometimes like to think about the rules and mores in other areas of advertising. As we know, they are in the sewer.

I'm not as conversant with these other areas as I'd like, but what is striking is how many of us today feel that web search should be considered somehow special or different when compared to something like TV or other "content" such as movies or songs. But if the rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket, should we expect publicly-traded pseudo-search companies to provide us with grad-school-quality research experiences? Doesn't the public always get about what they pay for? More to the point, to use one analogy, should I be too concerned if someone is bamboozled into thinking Twix Bars are just part of the plot of a Seinfeld episode if ten public television channels are only a short click of the remote away, but that user chooses not to forage for that stuff?

In reference to TV, as advertising got less effective, covert product placements became more attractive to advertisers. I'd say that paid inclusion is a lot like product placement. It's tough in some ways to vote on the question because a "right and proper" regulatory regime perhaps just lends a certain air of legitimacy to something that might remain rigged in many cases, as unreviewed suggests.

Do I, or many other viewers, think for a minute that when Dan Rather or John "J.D." Roberts begins to speak, we are getting the unvarnished "news"?

On the whole, people need to be taught to seek information from a variety of sources. Media literacy needs to extend to Internet search engines, and to whatever information one finds after one's performed that search. It is possible to envision a SERP full of poor-quality, biased, or manipulated results whether or not the index is based on paid inclusion.

As a result, I suppose in practice I'd think of this as a fairly pragmatic issue. Yahoo can serve the public interest just as well with a minimal disclosure requirement as with some sort of self-flagellating "this index is bought and paid for" requirement that would satisfy Ralph Nader's ego and little more. It's all about the quality of the results they provide in practice, and what people do with the information they find.

This is actually not a simple issue. When GoTo launched, there wasn't much thought given as to how to disclose the fact that the results were an auction for placement -- but it was pretty obvious (if gaudy) because the amount paid for placement was actually displayed beside the listing!! Now that would be interesting: how about listing the "total amount paid to Yahoo this year" by any given company listed... right beside any SERP they happened to show up in...

By contrast with GoTo, when AltaVista and Open Text made similar plans, there was a lot of criticism. Perhaps that's because people somehow feel like Open Text and AltaVista were like public utilities. Perhaps they conflate search engines with the Internet itself. Are they right? I don't think so -- I think Yahoo should be judged by marketplace standards, not quasi-religious ones -- but that won't stop many from treating search engines as special cases which must live up to more angelic standards than ordinary businesses and other media companies.
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Old 06-18-2004   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unreviewed
Until an engine exists that can't be manipulated by SEO, most top results are paid for, in one way or another.
That's an eye-opening point and quite true, as much as we SEOs don't like to admit it. I vote no disclosure is necessary in the case of paid inclusion. Pay-per-click results are another matter entirely, IMO.
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Old 06-18-2004   #16
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Quote:
Until an engine exists that can't be manipulated by SEO, most top results are paid for, in one way or another.
I agree, at least in general. There are plenty of top spots that aren't there because of overt SEO work. But in the first part of my series, I talked about something called "the myth of the level playing field." Anyone who thinks "free" results aren't influenced by money is making a mistake.

I guess the difference is that there are issues when the search engine itself is receiving money for these listings. That opens the door for things to potentially be rigged to benefit the search engine.

Another issue is that at least in the US, both paid placement and paid inclusion have now come under some limited government regulation. As Andrew says, and I agree, assuming that web search is something "special" in general that needs a whole set of rules is often mistake. We have plenty of laws governing advertising that are applicable.

However, the FTC has made special recommendations because it saw in the past that many consumers simply assume that results are supposed to be free of paid influence by the search engine. So why both even flagging paid placement, when many people may not care? Because in the US, the FTC says you need to do so. They want that extra protection involved. For paid inclusion, they don't think inline flagging is necessary so far.

Quote:
Danny, I'm wondering if the blue dot will confuse searchers. If they don't understand what they mean, they may think this is a mark of value. The eye may be drawn to those with the dot. :-)
Doesn't have to be blue dots. It could be anything, and very subtle. Yahoo and other search engines already put other things in the listings that users simply seem to ignore. I've no doubt most would ignore this, as well. But for those who care, it would be there.

Quote:
So, setting the preference for "those who care" might be a better approach.
That tends to be where I lean. Seems like an easy compromise. I've no doubt that most of the few who care will be SEOs. But SEOs are also one of two key groups of people who tend to spot when things go wrong with search engines (the other group being researchers and librarians).
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Old 06-18-2004   #17
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Originally Posted by Kal
That's an eye-opening point and quite true, as much as we SEOs don't like to admit it. I vote no disclosure is necessary in the case of paid inclusion. Pay-per-click results are another matter entirely, IMO.
I know of a number of SEOs/SEMs who run a very profitable business selling Organic traffic on a PPC basis.

how do you fit that into the bigger picture.

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Old 06-18-2004   #18
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I agree 100% with andrewgoodman.

Quote:
More to the point, to use one analogy, should I be too concerned if someone is bamboozled into thinking Twix Bars are just part of the plot of a Seinfeld episode if ten public television channels are only a short click of the remote away, but that user chooses not to forage for that stuff?
I did Internet technical support for 2 years and I can tell you that the general public is just happy clicking on their browser and surfing. Whether or not a search engine uses paid inclusion program is not and probably will never be the concern of the general public.

If anything, the only people who I talk to that seem to care are SEOs and consumer advocacy groups.
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Old 06-18-2004   #19
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Wink Who cares?

There is plenty of evidence to show that it has never occurred to many people that some results may be there in the listings simply because someone paid. Danny's article FTC Recommends Disclosure To Search Engines in SearchEngineWatch at http://searchenginewatch.com/serepor...le.php/2164891 should be enough to confirm that. And why would anyone worry about paid results if it has never occurred to them that paid results even existed?
Quote:
Originally Posted by K.S. Katz
If anything, the only people who I talk to that seem to care are SEOs and consumer advocacy groups.
Right. I might say, "So long as Consumer Advocacy groups are keeping a watch on what is being done, I don't need to worry. Anyway, what can I as an individual do - that is precisely the role that consumer advocacy groups are there to fulfil." So there's no reason to dismiss the groups or their concerns for that.
Now, we might also note the recent research (was it the iProspect reports or the Enquiro ones? I don't remember and don't have them to hand) that shows that Google is the search engine of choice for more affluent surfers, and that one reason for this is the perception of the value of organic listings as opposed to paid listings.
So? If we want to attact the more affluent and/or highly educated web user then it is really important to understand that the difference between organic and paid listings is important to significant groups of users, and that they appreciate being able to distinguish them. Cryptic symbols (including blue dots) are of limited use. The whole thrust of much of the criticism levelled at search engines by the FTC in the US and recently by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK is precisely that the distinction between paid and organic listings has been insufficiently clear. Danny has observed in the past that Google was the only search engine to distinguish paid listings clearly.
Well then. We have a number of powerful reasons to distinguish our listings:
a) affluent users prefer it (and they have more money to spend);
b) educated users prefer it (and they likely have influence in high places);
c) consumer groups prefer it (and they can cause us trouble);
d) government agencies prefer it.
Need any more?
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Old 06-18-2004   #20
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Originally Posted by andrewgoodman
In reference to TV, as advertising got less effective, covert product placements became more attractive to advertisers. I'd say that paid inclusion is a lot like product placement.
I'd disagree, Andrew. Product placement is done solely for branding. There's no expectation that Joe Consumer is going to get off his Barcalounger and go to the store to buy a 12-pack of Coke at the instant he sees Ray Romano holding a can of Coke, or that he'll get up and immediately leave the theater in the middle of Troy. Branding is all about future benefit, is it not?

Paid placement in Yahoo (for example) is designed to get you an immediate click, an immediate customer, an immediate sale. I'm not making a judgment on this as right or wrong, just saying I don't believe you can compare product placement on TV or movies to paid placement in a search engine. People using a search engine are in active mode. People in a movie theater are in passive mode.

Quote:
On the whole, people need to be taught to seek information from a variety of sources. Media literacy needs to extend to Internet search engines, and to whatever information one finds after one's performed that search.
Ain't that the truth ... especially in light of Danny's post about the Fox News / BBC issue.

Quote:
how about listing the "total amount paid to Yahoo this year" by any given company listed... right beside any SERP they happened to show up in...
I see it now ... "my budget is bigger than your budget" wars.

Seriously, a small, green dollar sign would work for me.
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