SEO expert Danny Sullivan

Are Google and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ignoring their own paid placement and paid inclusion disclosure guidelines? That’s the accusation SEO expert Danny Sullivan is making in a bombastic letter to the FTC calling for a major review of Google’s disclosure practices.

Sullivan posted a copy of his letter, and the accompanying research on a blog posting titled, A Letter To The FTC Regarding Search Engine Disclosure Compliance. According to Sullivan, both the FTC and Google are blatantly ignoring their own guidelines, and IPO filings, by allowing an ever increasing number of undisclosed or poorly disclosed paid placements in organic search results.

Paid Inclusion vs Paid Placement

Before getting too much further it’s worth examining the difference between paid inclusion and paid placement.

When search engine companies accept money from company’s to be included in the results for certain keywords, that’s paid inclusion. Google won’t guarantee what ranking the sites will get, just that they’ll be included.

Paid placement is when companies pay for above the fold placement on search engine results. These are normally labeled as advertising.

For more on the difference between paid inclusion and paid placement, check out Sullivan’s blog post on titled Once Deemed Evil, Google Now Embraces ‘Paid Inclusion.

Paid Inclusion Guidelines

A decade ago the FTC and Google collaborated on a series of guidelines regarding disclosure of paid listings. In Sullivan’s letter he claims that not only is Google operating in violation of those guidelines, but that the FTC is ignoring those violations. And Sullivan isn’t the only one making that claim.

Last week Nextag CEO Jefferey Katz wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal making very similar accusations.

“Most people believe that when they type “convection microwave oven” or “biking shorts” into Google, they will receive a list of the most relevant sites. Not true. That’s how Google used to work. Now, when someone searches for these items, the most prominent results are displayed because companies paid Google for that privilege….,” he said.

Sullivan is quick to point out that Nextag is in violation of those very same guidelines with their paid inclusions, too.

What’s the End Game?

So what is Sullivan hoping to accomplish with his FTC letter? His goals, it seems, are two fold. For starters, he wants the Commission to review Google’s current practices to see if they really are out of line with the guidelines (guidelines he himself helped craft.)

Sullivan also seems to be seeking basic clarification to aid in his own work. If the FTC and Google are using one set of standards and he’s using another, that’s a problem in his eyes.

It’s certain that we haven’t heard the end of this story, so watch CAP for further updates.

Do you think Google’s paid inclusion listings are properly disclosed? Let us know on our SEO Forum.



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