Search Engine Ads: Deceptive or Fair Game?

I think it is safe to assume that everyone who is reading this post has used a search engine such as Google or Yahoo at some point in their lives. Anyone who has used a search engine like that is most likely familiar with the ads that often pop up at the top of the results after you search for something. These ads often pertain to what you were searching for, and they are usually labeled as ads so that you know these are probably not the results that you want to click on. I have never really found them to be very annoying, except for the couple of times that I have accidentally clicked on them.

That is why I was somewhat surprised to see that federal regulators seem to be making a point to ensure that the ads in search engines are very clearly highlighted. Last year, they told Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft to more clearly highlight the ads in their search engine results, to avoid deceiving customers. Google distinguishes ads from other results by labeling them with a little yellow square that reads “Ad.” Yahoo and Microsoft distinguish the ads by shading them with a light gray color.
For me, those methods of distinguishing ads from other results are more than enough. I can look at the search results and clearly see the ad markers. Also, I just know from experience that the first couple of results could be ads. However, Robert Weissman, president of a consumer advocacy group called public citizen, claims that “Consumers are being tricked.” He thinks that the features used to distinguish ads from regular search results are not prominent enough to clearly and unabmiguously mark the ads. He is pushing for more clear cut markers so that users will not be unethically coaxed into clicking on an ad when they are just trying to find a regular search result for their search.
While I agree that clearly marked ads in search engines is a good thing, I do not think that there is a problem with the way that the ads are marked today. Also, even if there was a problem, I would not be upset by it. It would probably result in me clicking on ads sometimes, but I really don’t care. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t think that would be nearly as annoying as having to sit through an ad every time i watch a youtube video is. What do you think? Do you think that it is an issue? Are ads marked clearly enough for you to be able to distinguish them from regular search results?​​


Winkler, R. (2014, October 14). Ads Tied to Web Searches Criticized as Deceptive. Retrieved October 16, 2014, from

4 thoughts on “Search Engine Ads: Deceptive or Fair Game?

  1. I would take the highlighted ads after I do a google search on the top of the page anyday over sitting through ads on YouTube. I don’t see how consumers are being decieved if it says “Ad” right next to it.


  2. I think part of the problem is, just like with print, older people might not be able to distinguish the ads from real search results. It’s been proven that older people get tricked onto clicking ads easier than people our age. Some of them have vision problems so they might not be able to see the small ad blocks as well as we do. Also unfortunately, some people lack common sense and can still think what they are clicking is indeed a genuine search result. For these reasons i’m all for labeling ad search results more clearly.


  3. When I was younger, someone told me that if you click on those ads, the company has to pay for that ad space because it was utilized (or something like that, essentially clicking on the ad means someone has to pay for it). And ever since, I’ll click on those links just to be a jerk 🙂 For example, if I google Nasty Gal, I could click the unhighlighted, non-ad Google result, but I chose to click the highlighted one because if Nasty Gal paid to be there, I might as well make their money worth something.


  4. I’ve been working for a company who pays Google for ads like this. From my experience, it hardly works. I think consumers today have their own judgement. But companies and organizations still love to use this type of ad to increase their exposure.


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