Friday, December 19, 2008

Pro or Anti Search Engine Advertisements?

This journal seems to have taken a turn toward examining the ethics of new media advertising as a whole. For the most part, many of the discussions within the class have been sort of one-sided. All in all, the class has--for the most part--agreed when it comes to ethics. I do not remember reading any posts that say "there's no immoral issues involved in marketing to children or minorities."

However, this week's discussion has taken a very interesting turn. The discussion was about advertorials, paid advertisements in search engines, and whether or not the practice of placing paid advertisements into search engines was ethical. At first, I figured it would be a discussion about how this type of advertising can be immoral if not used properly, but then I read the posts and it turns out that there's a wide variety of opinions when it comes to the issue of paid advertising and search engines. In order to develop a clearer analysis on this topic, we need to look at both sides of the argument.


Believe it or not, companies such as Google have to pay in order to run their search engines. With consumers using their searches for free, how can a company like Google or Yahoo! cover their internet expenses and make a profit? One solution that many search engines have discovered is allowing paid advertisements to appear on the results page. Companies will pay the search engine sites money for the priviledge of appearing on the page and for each time a user clicks on their link (McLaughlin, 2002). How profitable is this type of advertising? It is difficult to collect the actual numbers since companies such as Google remain silent about the statistics, but on average it is predicted that they generate over $3 billion in annual revenue (Karr, 2004). Trough this form of advertising, it helps to benefit both the advertisers through exposure and the search engine through revenue.

Another reason why this form of advertising may be seen as favorable is because of its appearance. The Federal Trade Commission has taken charge of evaluating search engine industries and demands that these industries provide “clear and conspicuous disclosure” of their search engine advertisements. Therefore, the more successful companies such as Google have decided to separate their results from their advertisements through colors and labeling (West Virginia University, P.I. Reed School of Journalism, 2008).

A final argument that was mentioned was the idea of search results actually working as a form of information in itself. Advertorials take it a step further by infroming the user that "this is an advertiser-related feature which offers extra value via information and/or entertainment” (Creative formats: Impact and interaction, 2008). This way, the user gathers some benefit from reading the advertorial.


I mentioned earlier that some companies, such as Google, separate their searches from their advertisements in very clear ways. However, there are other websites such as Alta Vista where the searches and advertisements are more difficult to separate. One out of every six users can not tell the difference between a paid advertisement and a legitimate search result (West Virginia University, P.I. Reed School of Journalism, 2008). Add to the fact that often times these paid advertisements are either inside the results or not clearly labeled as advertisements and you have a recipe for deception (McLaughlin, 2002).

Another argument against this type of advertising is the deception and loss of credibility that search engines receive once they are discovered to have accepted money from advertisers for appearances on result pages. Sixty percent of internet users did not have any knowledge of websites accepting fees from companies that paid for advertisements on the result pages. Along with this information, other companies such as Google keep their revenue counts a secret in terms of how much they make off of search engine advertisements (McLaughlin, 2002). With this type of secrecy, it becomes rather difficult to discern between what is legitimate and what is paid propoganda and this adds another level of difficulty when it comes to FTC regulations on paid advertisements within search engines.


For the most part, many of my fellow classmates within the discussion fell into the gray area. Some believed while this type of advertising can have its pitfalls, it is not necessarily the worst type of ethical violation within advertising. However, what I want to know is what you think about paid advertisements in search engine results. Do you think they help those that are looking for information? Do they annoy those that are not looking to purchase a product? Are they an ethical issue or just another thing to ignore while you are searching for information on a topic?
Creative formats: Impact and interaction. PPA Marketing. Retrieved December 18, 2008, from

Karr, R. (2004, April 14). Search engine wars: Making money off search. NPR. Retrieved December 16, 2008, from

McLaughlin, L. (2002). Straight story: Search engines. PC World.

West Virginia University, P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Lesson 9: Walking the line: Eithics in new media IMC. Retrieved December 16, 2008, from


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