When searching on the Web, how can you be sure that you are getting organic results, and not paid content or simply an ad? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the same question, and has recently told search engines to more clearly label advertising in their search results, noting a decline in compliance in recent years. According to a recent post in the New York Times, search engine companies have been told that they should more clearly distinguish between advertising, paid content, and the results of a search.

The original guidelines for search engines were developed in 2002 to avoid the potential for deception by advertisers. Consumers should be able to easily distinguish between a natural search result and advertising that search engines deliver for their clients.

Complicating matters is the fact that people arenít simply using their desktop for searches anymore. The plethora of devices that can access the Web, and the attendant platforms that search engines must comply with, can make it difficult for a search engine company to clearly define the difference.

Clear labeling and disclosure of paid results is what the FTC is looking for. If a result is even partially based on payment from a third party it should be disclosed. The commission stated that advertisements should have text labels in the left top corner of a search box identifying results as having been paid for.

This has significant ramifications for content marketing enthusiasts who fail to disclose that they are presenting sponsored material rather than legitimate, credible third-party journalism.