Buying Your Way In: Search Engine Advertising Chart

Do search engines sell listings? Yes. Should searchers fear this? Not necessarily. Paid listings generate revenue for search engines, which in turn helps them provide unpaid editorial listings to searchers for free.

Think newspapers. Newspapers have both “editorial” copy, which is not supposed to be influenced by advertising, as well as ads themselves. You may read the paper primarily for the articles, but there are certainly times when you may find the advertisements useful, as well.

How do you know what’s an ad? In “old” media such as newspapers and television, most people can readily identify ads because they look or act so very different from “content.” Over time, most people pick up on cues that identify whether something is an ad or not. Occasionally, “infomercials” or “advertorials” cut very close to mimicking content. That’s why these forms of advertisements often have to carry disclaimers, to ensure consumers are not misled.

In the new media of search engines, paid listings have been commonplace since 2001. By now, most people know what a paid search ad looks like in the SERPs. However, that wasn’t always the case. Back in 2004, the situation was complicated due to the fact that most search engines didn’t distinguish between editorial and paid search results.

The search engine advertising chart below can help you understand the main forms of ads you may encounter on various popular search engines. This is helpful for searchers who want to be more educated about what they view, as well as for potential advertisers who would like to be listed with search engines.

Types Of Ads / Chart Key

All search engines have some editorial-style listings that are not bought and sold. Ad spend will not guarantee a top ranking in these places. However, the space around this editorial copy is considered fair game for ads. So, what’s available?

Paid Placement Listings

Most major search engines carry paid placement listings, where advertisers are guaranteed a high ranking, usually in relation to desired words. These paid listings are usually segregated from editorial results and labeled to highlight that they are ads. The exact position of the paid placement listings can vary. Usually, they appear above the editorial links. They can also appear at the bottom or to the side of editorial content in “Sidebar” style.

Search Engine Watch generally uses the term “paid placement” to describe ads that guarantee placement, but others may refer to these ads in different terms, including “sponsored listings,” “paid search ads,” “pay for placement,” “pay for performance,” “CPC listings” (cost-per-click) and “PPC listings” (pay per click). The last two terms reflect the fact that paid listings are sold on a basis where advertisers only pay if someone clicks on their ads.

Advertisers looking for a basic guide to purchasing paid listings should see the Submitting Via Paid Listings page. Anyone interested in articles that examine various issues associated with paid listings should see the compilation of articles on the Search Engine Advertising page’s Paid Placement section.

Paid Inclusion

In paid inclusion, a site owner pays a fee in order to have web pages included in a search engine’s editorial listings. Does this mean that those in paid inclusion get to be ranked tops in editorial results? No. The major search engines offering such programs are usually emphatic that payment does not provide any ranking boost.

For example, someone with a brand new web site might submit their home page through a paid inclusion program in order to ensure that the page gets listed within a day or two, rather than the typical two-to-four weeks it might take for a crawler-based search engine to find the page “naturally.” Whether the site will rank well for a particular term will remain dependent on the various factors that search engines use to ordinarily rank web pages (described more on the How Search Engines Rank Web Pages and Search Engine Placement Tips page).

In another example, someone might have a page that changes often, such as with new products for sale. Paid inclusion would allow this page to be revisited on a regular basis, such as every other day, rather than the more common monthly schedule that most crawler-based search engines tend to follow.

How about one more example? Even the best crawler-based search engines do not gather all the pages that a web site may publish. Some pages may be difficult to index because they are dynamic in nature. Others pages may be missed simply because a search engine can’t get to everything out there. With paid inclusion, a content publisher can ensure that all their pages are included if they are willing to foot the bill. Paying still doesn’t guarantee placement, but being more deeply listed can improve the likelihood of an advertiser appearing in response to a wide range of searches.

It is important to remember that paid inclusion provides no boosts in ranking. While paid inclusion was popular for a while, currently there are not many paid inclusion programs left.

Advertisers looking for a basic guide to purchasing paid inclusion should see the Submitting To Crawlers page. Anyone interested in articles that examine various issues associated with paid inclusion should see the compilation of articles on the Search Engine Advertising page’s Paid Inclusion section.

Below are some key articles from that page on the subject from Search Engine Watch:

Paid Submission

Only Yahoo still operates a paid submission program. More about this can be found on the Submitting To Directories page, while past articles about issues with paid submission can be found on the Search Engine Advertising page’s Paid Submission section.

Content Promotion

Many major search engines will promote an advertiser’s content or their own content on their search results pages. This is usually done in a separate area from the editorial results.

Banner Ads

Many major search engines have for years carried keyword-linked, graphical banner advertising. The chart below does not list who does or where these ads appear, as such ads are readily identifiable.

Search Engine Paid Content Disclosure

While paid search ads are more readily identified in search engine results today, back in 2002, search ads were not always clearly identified, resulting in a controversy over disclosure. Then in June 2002, the US Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines about how search engines should disclosure paid content, as explained more in the FTC Recommends Disclosure To Search Engines article from Search Engine Watch.

The level of disclosure surrounding paid placement ads varies by search engine. Over the years, watchdog groups have tried to raise awareness of the need for advertising disclosure on search engines, and perhaps today, more people are aware of the distinction between organic and paid listings. However, research on public awareness shows that typical web searchers generally do not recognize the distinction between organic and paid search listings.

Search Engine Advertising Chart

The chart below provides a guide to how search engines display some paid content. For a combined look at how both paid and editorial content are gathered, see the Search Engine Results Chart.

Links to the search engines named on the chart can be found on the Major Search Engines page. Also see the Paid Listings Search Engines page for smaller sites where results are generally bought and sold.

Sponsored Matches
sections have paid listings or they appear in sidebar boxes
Sponsored Links
section has paid listings
n/a Content Blocks
link discloses may happen in
Matching Sites
Ask Featured Sponsor
& Sponsored Web
sections have paid listings
link discloses may happen in
Web Results
link discloses may happen in
Web Results
Google Sponsored Link(s)
appears near paid listings or they appear in sidebar boxes
n/a n/a
MSN Live Search Sponsored Sites
section has paid listings or they appear in sidebar boxes
Sponsored Site
link discloses
may happen in
Web Pages results
Yahoo Sponsored Results
sections have paid listings or they appear in sidebar boxes labeled
Sponsored Results
About This Page
label provides disclosure
About This Page
label provides disclosure


More specific details about how each major search engine
integrates paid placement and paid inclusion listings
is available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

Note: the date shown on this article reflects updates provided by Claudia Bruemmer, Internet Marketing Writer and former ClickZ Managing Editor. This article was originally published by Danny Sullivan in November of 2004.

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