Australian Group Claims Google is Selling its Top Spot

Sep 10, 2007 • 9:23 am | comments (5) by twitter | Filed Under Google News & Finances

According to an Australian newspaper, a watchdog group feels Google is selling the top result in its search engine to commercial partners rather than sorting the results organically. In other words, consumers are clicking on the top result assuming it is organically relevant when the reality is that the top result is really a sponsored listing.

GOOGLE has been selling off the top rankings on its search engine results to commercial partners, rather than sorting them by relevance as it claims to, a Sydney court has heard.

The consumer watchdog alleges Google does not do enough to differentiate "organic" search results - those ranked by relevance - from sponsored links which appear at the top of the results page.

I personally don't think these concerns have any validity to them. After all, the top sponsored listing is paid, after all. If you click on it, the advertiser is responsible for paying Google for that click. If you don't like the top listings, click on them all you want scroll down to see the other results.

DigitalPoint Forums members feel the same way. In fact, one has been kind enough to share the Google Terms of Service with us, where it specifically says that Google is entitled to display advertisements.

17. Advertisements

17.1 Some of the Services are supported by advertising revenue and may display advertisements and promotions. These advertisements may be targeted to the content of information stored on the Services, queries made through the Services or other information.

17.2 The manner, mode and extent of advertising by Google on the Services are subject to change without specific notice to you.

17.3 In consideration for Google granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Google may place such advertising on the Services.

Others are just peeved that Google is being held accountable for people's inability to differentiate between sponsored listings and organic ones. And why should they? Google is not owned by the residents of Australia but exists rather to serve them to find information.

Google hasn't done anything wrong. They're basically being sued because [people] can't read the writing that says "Sponsored Links".

I totally understand that frustration. There are many folks around here who don't find any fault with the display of listings.

Forum discussion continues at DigitalPoint Forums.

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09/10/2007 06:45 pm

I suppose that if McDonalds can be sued over one Americans' inability/unwillingness to consider the typical heat of a cup of coffee in managing her drive past the order window, Google can also be sued for failing to providing a free service absent of full support for private individuals to avoid any need or responsibility to employ basic thought. :-/

Michael Martinez

09/10/2007 06:58 pm

The court is not concerned with how easy it is for people in the search industry to distinguish between sponsored results and organic listings, but rather with how effective Google is in educating the typical searcher about the paid-listing status of the topmost links on the page. If it can be shown that most people don't distinguish between paid links and organic listings (and there has been some research in the past which indicated that people did not), then the consumer advocate case may have some merit. Keep in mind, also, that the event under consideration occurred in 2005.

Matthew Elshaw

09/11/2007 04:00 am

It sounds like this watchdog group is trying to blur the difference between organic and paid links unsuccessfully. If a user doesn't notice the highlighted colour or text that says "sponsored links" surely that’s not the fault of Google?


09/11/2007 07:15 am

Google sel too: GOOGLE has been selling off the top rankings on its search engine results to ... Google's top spot for sale, court told.

Michael Martinez

09/11/2007 04:30 pm

"If a user doesn't notice the highlighted colour or text that says "sponsored links" surely that’s not the fault of Google?" You cannot hold the user responsible for poor page design. As I mentioned above, some usability tests in the past have indicated that typical searchers did not necessarily know that sponsored results were advertisements.

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