SEO; Paying for priority

Recently, I have been noticing that search engine optimization, SEO, has been becoming more and more of a hot topic of controversy in the PR industry. SEO is the process of improving the volume/quality of traffic to a web site/web page from certain search engines, such as Google, Bing, etc. The results that come up for a search in a given search engine can be un-paid (organic) results, or they can be paid (search engine marketing, SEM) results.

The controversial topic that I would like to confront with SEO is whether or not the public at large, as well as PR practitioners, think that paid SEO, or SEM for that matter, may tarnish the reputation, legitimacy, and/or credibility of those companies that bid on and pay for high ranking results for its web site.

Search engines, such as Google, list the top SEO results that are paid for in a highlighted region on the top of the page, which indicates “sponsored links.” In my opinion, Google specifically indicates the paid results for protection and preservation of its own reputation, to let the public know that they are not taking money under the table which would alter the results that come up for searches, as opposed to those “organics” results. I think that this is a wise business and PR tactic that Google implements, which I also believe has kept Google up to the high standard and credibility that it has. However, my own curious, PR-oriented mind cannot help but wonder if most people know and/or even care that some of the top results that come up in searches on search engine web sites are actually there because of paid placement.

Even though these paid placements are higher on the result list, do people question the credibility and the legitimacy of these web sites because they did indeed pay for it? Will all search engine websites eventually resort to sponsored links and paid SEM? Will all of the top search results end up being ranked by highest bidder rather than “organic” hit frequently and customer-rated ranking?

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5 Responses to SEO; Paying for priority

  1. dsmith says:

    This blog entry brings up a good point. I personally get annoyed by the highlighted entries at the top of the search lists because they don’t provide a need for me and they never help with my search in any way. For example, when you google the term SEO, the first three entries are advertisements for companies that increase companys’ optimization for a price. The majority of the time I am googling something it’s for research, not to buy something so it’s more of a hassle than a help. On the other hand, I am glad Google deciphers these posts from the rest so I know not to click on them. It would be worse if they weren’t highlighted and you had to click and read through all of them before figuring out they were advertisements.

  2. cnaughton says:

    I agree with dsmith that these sponsored links at the top and sides of search results are more annoying than anything. However, since I first learned that they are just advertisements, I have skipped over them without even thinking about it. Like anywhere else, commercials during TV shows or huge advertorial spreads in magazines, very few of us actually LIKE them. With that said, I don’t exactly think that these sponsored links hurt the reputation of a company. If anything, they may wear out potential customers faster than with traditional advertising, but all that really says is this channel of advertising may not be effective for their company or brand. Nonetheless, I would think that most users see these links for what they are and don’t pay much attention to them unless they were looking for them from the beginning.

  3. aguido says:

    I agree with dsmith that those sponsored links are more than a hassle than a help when searching for something. It usually isn’t what I’m looking for and can be distracting, especially if they are bumping what I’m looking for onto the second page. For some reason I often skip over the sponsored links at the top, even though they are highlighted. I agree with cnaughton that most users don’t pay much attention to them, as I am one of them.

    I can see the advantage for businesses to pay for that spot though, especially if they are just starting up. It is hard to get word out about your brand new site right away, so it wouldn’t organically make it to the first page of a search engine. Because of that, I would think it would be beneficial to a site to pay to have that spot there so that they hopefully will one day gain enough traffic to be “organic” and found easily.

  4. tburns says:

    After reading everyone’s comments about how they skip over the sponsored links, I have to ask what this means for the future of advertising as a whole…

    The entire point to Internet Web browsers is to find what you want when you want and fast. If there are sponsored link at the top of the page that are only there because businesses have paid for them to be there, it defeats this purpose. The findings from studies and research is showing that advertising as it is traditionally known is not as effective as it once was, and I think I wouldn’t be venturing too far if I said that the effectiveness is getting less and less as the Internet generation is becoming a part of that target audience. While SEO is not in the format of traditional advertising the concept behind it is the same. Pay for an “ad” to be in someone’s face, and it will increase business. However, times are changing and people are going to businesses when they want and need them. Thus, I do not think paid SEO will be a long-enduring trend.

  5. cmcelroy says:

    Personally, I too usually just end up skipping past the highlighted links at the beginning because I view them as ads. That being said, I don’t think it hinders the organization’s credibility at all. It’s paid advertising. In the same way that an ad might pop up in a targeted market, these are ads that pop up thanks to specific triggers. I don’t see the link as anything different than a banner on a website. I think you’re going to be hard pressed to find a profit-seeking company that doesn’t spend any money towards getting their name out there. This is just another avenue of accomplishing that end.

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