The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning to the major search engines requesting that they more clearly distinguish between the organic results and paid ads. This applies not only to traditional search engines, but also social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as mobile apps.
The FTC’s warning to search engines should be a wake-up call to the search marketing industry. The days of playing fast and loose with mixed paid and organic search results on search engine results pages (SERPs) appears to be coming to an end. In its place will be more stringent oversight of how search engines display paid search results and, as a result, more cumbersome and potentially onerous restrictions on what search marketing can and cannot do with their campaigns.
What are the potential implications for marketers of this new guidance? What do search marketers need to do now to begin adjusting for these changes?
It is unclear at this point the extent that each search engine will address this request, but it is expected that minor changes to the way paid ads are identified will ensue to avoid possible FTC action.
These changes, however, can impact the efforts of search engine marketers, as they will potentially need to make more drastic modifications to their search engine marketing efforts.
Here are some potential effects that the FTC’s warning will have on marketers:
Further Real-Estate Limitations
Clarifying the difference between paid and organic search listings can potentially limit the space available to both organic and paid listings. This means that either fewer results will be able to display “above the fold” without scrolling, or the character limits within each result will be reduced.
If the number of results above the fold is decreased, achieving an above-the-fold listing will be even more competitive. Businesses will be competing heavily for top placement and more of an investment will be needed to generate current levels of volume.
In the case of character limits being reduced within each result, businesses will need to update their online messaging to get their point across in less space. Paid ad titles and ad copy will likely have to be updated to fit within new limits and titles, and meta descriptions of organic mobile pages will need to be shortened to avoid being truncated when listed.
More Strategic Mobile Targeting
Paid search targeted to mobile devices is one of the fastest-growing digital marketing channels and is playing a bigger role in how consumers find products and services. The implications of the FTC warning on mobile paid search could have a big impact on how these ads are displayed. Mobile search real estate, because of the size of mobile browsers, is already very limited.
What marketers will need to pay close attention to is how they segment their mobile targeting by device type. For example, the difference in the amount of SERP real estate between tablets and smartphones is likely to increase. Targeting and bidding strategies will need to vary per device to be most efficient.
Changes to Voice-Activated Search Services
Another implication specific to mobile search is brought on by the request relating to voice-activated search results. The FTC’s warning extends to services such as Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s S-Voice. The FTC has requested that when a voice search is executed, an audio disclosure should be made to identify paid advertising. This could potentially deter users from those paid ads, making the organic listings more valuable.
Marketers must keep a close eye on search engine results and take note of any changes that occur. When used correctly and responsibly, paid search marketing can provide a tremendous benefit to brands’ online marketing and customer acquisition strategies. But in light of the FTC’s letter, the days of deceptive paid search tactics are coming to an end. That will benefit both consumers and marketers in the long run.