In its ongoing effort to avoid consumer confusion, the Federal Trade Commission this week delivered a letter to various search engine companies telling them to tighten up their practices when it comes to paid advertising that appears on a search results page. Take a look at this results page. Can you tell what’s an ad and what came up as a natural search result?  If you’re confused, the FTC is looking out for you. The Commission is particularly concerned with the “top ads” – the ones that show up above the natural results. 

The Commission wants search engines to ensure that the shading that sets the ads apart is prominent enough so that the background doesn’t get lost, especially on mobile devices. It also wants prominent text indicating what’s an ad. The Commission is reacting to survey results that showed that 62% of searchers were not aware of the distinction between paid and non-paid results. Only 18% of the people responding to the survey said they could always differentiate. And there is no breakdown of how many men are included in the 18%, which is significant, because we lie all the time. Especially when it comes to our technical savvy. 

Don’t be surprised if you notice in the coming months more efforts to set the paid results aside.  For the 62% and the liars in the 18%, that will be a welcome change.