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February 2, 2005

A recent study has determined that many people do not know the difference between paid and unpaid Internet Search results.

Go to your favorite Search Engine (Yahoo!, Google, MSN, etc.) and type in a word or phrase for which you want more information. Within seconds, you have a series of links to results, all of which will tell you, to a varying degree, more about the subject in question. And what many do not realize is that some of those Search results are where they are on the page (at the top of highlighted with big, bold type) because the owners of those websites have paid for that position.

To their credit, most well-known Search Engines label paid Search results as such. Yahoo!, for instance, calls paid results "sponsor links." Look at a Google Search result and you will see the words "sponsored links." MSN uses the words "sponsored sites" to describe its paid results.

But if an Internet user isn't savvy enough to look for the big, bold type or the "magic words," he or she might very well assume that the paid results are the ones with the most information. This might very well be true, but it is certainly true that those results are where they are because their sponsors have paid a sum of money for them to be so presented. In effect, they are Search Engine ads, every bit as "bought" as banner ads and blinking cursors.

As with most things that students and adults encounter on the Internet, Search results need to be evaluated with a certain amount of objectivity and a small amount of skepticism. Editing and fact-checking of websites is not nearly as stringent as that accompanying print publishing, for instance. (As a side note, please know that the publisher of this website personally edits every page and thoroughly researches topics before approving pages for publication.)

So the next time you do an Internet Search, look for the "magic words" that will tell you whether you're looking for genuine results or "paid" results.

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