The ACCC claims that sponsored links are not clearly distinguished from organic results, alleging Google’s practices are misleading. The shaded area at the top of results was their original complaint, but now they have broadened the accusations to include the right-hand links too, claiming that they look the same as the organic listings.
The ‘sponsored links’ text is barely visible, they claim, and the shaded area is too subtle, and dependent on the screen angle. I tried this out, and it’s true – at certain angles the shaded area pretty much disappears.
I, for one, have always been grateful that Google has kept with their practice of text-only ads, keeping a clean look and staying away from potentially annoying and distracting banner ads. I can’t speak for Joe Average, however, about how clear it is that the sponsored links are ads.
The other complaint the ACCC has made is about the way companies are allowed to bid for competitors’ names as keywords – for example, a searcher clicking on a sponsored link for ‘Playstation 2’ may land on a page selling Xboxes.
This is a case to keep an eye on. Google remains confident that the ACCC don’t have a case against them, but as the Google parent company is targeted, and all search engines follow similar practices, the potential ripple effect is huge. The Australian reported that ‘any decision here could have global implications,’ not just for Google but for search marketing in general.