Consumer Reports Webwatch Guidelines For Search Engine And Navigation Sites

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We empower consumers through education and action about communication and media issues involving telephone, cable, Internet and wireless services and equipment.
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We believe Web sites that provide search and navigation services will promote Web credibility, improve trust among users and increase usability if they adopt Consumer Reports WebWatch’s guidelines for all Web sites and the following industry-specific guidelines:

  1. Search engine sites should provide consumers with a comprehensive list of major advertisers and content sponsors with whom they do business, particularly those relationships that would influence search rankings or results page presentation. This list should be prominently displayed and easy to find, with a current date of last update. The better sites will display this information on each of the search results pages or provide an easy-to-see link (and label) from each results page.
  2. Sites should provide consumers with basic explanations of how ranking and prioritizing technologies work (i.e., Web indexing, spidering, crawling, human-compiled directory, etc.) For instance, what criteria are used to determine keyword relevancy, or, how advertiser-paid results are fed into the results page.
  3. Sites that provide an internal editorial review of keyword-triggered paid search advertisements and links should prominently disclose this fact and provide a basic explanation of how the editorial process works, and how much it costs the advertiser before acceptance. Sites should also provide a basic explanation of how they determine relevancy weighting for paid search results versus those derived from unbiased algorithms.
  4. Sites should tell consumers if search results from a business partner or third party are exclusive to that site, and which results from that partner are pure search versus those that have been paid for, and a last date of update. For example, sites should explain what is meant by terms placed next to the search box, such as “Enhanced by Search Engine X” or “Powered by Search Engine Y.”
  5. The better search and navigation sites will use clear and conspicuous terms to label paid search results, whether they appear as links or in other formats, like boxed advertisements. Consumer Reports WebWatch recommends the term “paid advertisement,” which is modeled after the newspaper and magazine publishing industries. The better sites will use colored text and/or contained boxes or standard Web page areas in which to place paid search advertisements or links, making them easier for consumers to distinguish from pure results.
  6. The better search and navigation sites will provide clear options for search customization at the earliest possible step of the search. Site search architecture should focus on consumer requirements, as opposed to focusing on business agreements.
  7. The better sites will include a disclaimer or tutorial page for consumers explaining “first doesn’t necessarily mean best,” in results returns.
  8. Sites should provide an explanation or basic definitions of frequently used search engine marketing terms such as “cost-per-click,” “paid search,” “paid placement,” “pay-for-placement,” “pay-for- performance,” “pay-per-click,” “paid inclusion” and “paid submission.”
  9. Sites that offer paid search marketing programs for advertisers should avoid making claims such as “the best,” “most relevant” results or “most matches.”
  10. In the special case of meta-search engines, in which a number of search service providers feed their paid results to the search engine property: Clear and conspicuous disclosure should be made to indicate to consumers that many such results are the equivalent of “paid advertisements.”