I’m surprised this didn’t get more notice in the typical marketing sites, perhaps because it is masked as a product pitch for McAfee’s SiteAdvisor. Ben Edelman, you remember him from previous posts on search click fraud and spyware, just completed a study I’m assuming on behalf of SiteAdvisor looking at The Safety of Internet Search Engines and I thought it was fairly interesting. Not from an online marketing POV, but from a general internet use POV. Here are the highlights or low-lights if you’ve been snagged by one of these unscrupulous types. Oh, before we dive in, let me just set two definitions for you.
- A yellow rated site by SiteAdvisor means it engages in practices that warrant important advisory information. These sites send a high volume of non-spammy email, display many pop-up ads, or prompt users to change browser settings.
- MSN has the lowest percentage of dangerous sites while Ask had the most
- Sponsored search results contained 2-4 times as many dangerous sites as organic
- As many as 285 million monthly clicks to these unscrupulous sites as a result of search
- Sponsored links were 2.75 times more likely to end up on these sites than organic links
- Free screensavers as a search term returns 57% bad sites and the results differ by search engine. Other words such as Digital Music, tech toys and popular software return high percentages of evil sites.
Ok, so what does all of this mean? Simple. You really have to be careful out there. Personally, this debunked a theory that I had which was clicking on sponsored links would return better results; clearly that is false and now that I think about it, makes sense. You see in order to get listed high in the organic listing you have to have links and relevancy while being listed high in sponsored links requires good text ads and high bid amounts.
I don't know why Yahoo, Google, and Ask don't do more to clean up these listings. It really is in their best interest over the long term to have a lot of credibility in the sponsored links area. If consumers think that the sponsored links are worse than organic search, than POOF there goes a revenue stream.