August 09, 2005
Search Engine Payola
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Josh asks about the relationship between consumers and search engines.  I actually think that Google is way out front on this issue by their careful separation of paid search from PageRank.  Google explains,

Advertising on Google is always clearly identified as a "Sponsored Link." It is a core value for Google that there be no compromising of the integrity of our results. We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results. No one can buy better PageRank.   Our users trust Google's objectivity and no short-term gain       could ever justify breaching that trust.

This may only matter to some consumers (see Eric Goldman's comment to Josh's post), but disclosure to the consumer sets the tone for corporate integrity. 

In my branding paper, I suggest that Google's Auction IPO was structured to reinforce this brand image.  Google discloses which results are paid for and which are not for the same reasons that they sought transparency in their IPO process.

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