In a very unusual move, Bing has been caught blending paid sponsored listings with their organic search results. The change is a break in tradition for the placement of sponsored listings which are typically found to the right and above organic search results.
Below is a screenshot showing the questionable placement of Bing sponsored listings.
Microsoft have commented on the change stating,
We’re constantly testing and experimenting on Bing, and with that, we carefully measure user engagement and reaction to these changes. We have nothing further to share at this time.
Blending sponsored listings with organic results has traditionally been seen as deceptive because consumers may end up clicking on the listings without realising they are in fact paid ads.
As can be seen in the screenshot above, they are almost completely blended into the organic results and one could argue that any business with enough cash could pay to be listed as the fourth and fifth “organic” listings.
In the past, search engines have used “paid inclusion” programs to guarantee that content will be indexed – however this had no impact on the ranking of these results. The last remaining paid inclusion program was dropped by Yahoo! in 2009.
I haven’t seen something like this for a long time and I don’t expect the test to last long. Let us know what you think in the comments below.