Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Recognition Marketing - Good Search Engines Can Do Bad Things

Sponsored Links - Bait And Switch?

I love Google (and Yahoo!, Ask, MSN, Lycos, etc). Each provides a quick and friendly tool to find what I am looking for. Google even shows me that my search for whatever produced several hundred thousand results in .02 seconds. Simply amazing!

Ever notice (or click), however, on what these search engines call "sponsored links"? These are the ones that magically (and always) appear at the top or right hand column of search results. These are the ones "sponsored" or paid for by third parties. These third parties successful bid (and pay for) keywords and phrases that guarantee their links appear next to the free (organic) listings. By the way, the search engines make a considerable sum of money from these "sponsored links" known by their better name "paid search".

I, for one, am not against anyone making an honest buck and the search engines have surely done that in recent years.

But there is something amiss here that needs to be corrected (or disclaimered). In other media, mis-direction or misleading ads of this kind all called "bait and switch" , i.e. "I thought I was getting this, but I got this instead." Translation: "I've been bamboozled".

Let's say you did a search for say a specific brand (Delta Air Lines, AT&T Wireless, Citibank, etc.) and in the sponsored links you noted "Delta Air Lines" etc and clicked on it only to find it was not Delta Air Lines, but another firm's web site who had paid the search engine for the keyword phrase "Delta Air Lines" say a travel agency or another competitive airline. Sounds like bait and switch to me. Wouldn't you also wonder why a respected search engine would be a party to re-directing or misleading you?

I am sad to report that this is indeed the case with many sponsored searches. There is not even a clear disclaimer that informs the consumer that "the following links may not be sponsored by the mentioned brand."

I, for one, thinks its high time that search engines respect the integrity of brands on their respective sites. If the link implies it is sponsored by the brand I recognize and I am searching for, I should be linked to that brand and not some company that has hijacked it or a search engine who is aiding and abetting this behavior.

To all the good search engines, I say, stop this bad behavior. Put consumers and brands first.