Amazon Paid Placements Raise Ethics Questions

Amazon Paid Placements Raise Ethics Questions

From The Search Engine Report
March 3, 1999

Amazon is not a search engine, but the recent revelations that publishers have paid for placement within the service have caused questions to be raised about paid placements within search engines.

Search results themselves remain "editorial" copy that cannot be purchased by advertisers, except at But since mid-1997, "content" partnerships have proliferated at all the major search sites. Advertising related links have also moved into the main results areas themselves, either down the sides of results or appearing above and below them.

In the New York Times article below, a Yahoo vice president claims that a large majority of web users understand what's presented though deals versus what's presented through editorial choice. I'd disagree with this. I suspect that the majority of web users have no idea how or why certain links appear within search engine channels and alongside search results.

I think eventually web users will learn the distinction between advertising and editorial at web sites, in the same way newspaper readers can readily identify ads from news articles. But as Amazon moves toward labeling its paid content, it will be interesting to see if search services also feel they need to also make things clearer for their visitors. It would certainly help to educate users more.

It would be particularly ironic if the prominent links to Amazon from several of the major search engine themselves were labeled as paid placements.

Caveat Emptor on the Web: Ad and Editorial Lines Blur
New York Times, Feb. 26, 1999

An excellent article covering how the lines can get blurred between advertising and editorial at search services and elsewhere.

Online Editors Aim to Sharpen Blurry Lines
Industry Standard, Feb. 15, 1999,1449,3535,00.html

Covers how the line seems to be slipping between editorial and advertising online.

Selling Books or Screen Space?
Reuters, Feb. 9, 1999

Details of the Amazon paid placements revelations.

Amazon Admits Paid Placements
Wired News, Feb. 9, 1999

Covers Amazon's decision to begin labeling paid placements.

Want A Top Listing? Become A Content Partner!
The Search Engine Report, Aug. 5, 1997

I said turning advertising into "content" was fraught with problems for users back when we first started seeing retailer deals appear.