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Monday, June 5, 2006

How Safe are Search Engines?

Posted by @ 6:30 pm

MSN is considered the safest search engine to use, according to a recent study conducted by McAfee’s SiteAdvisor which compared the safety of major search engines.

More and more people are using search engines to search the Internet, and associated with that comes potential risks to the way in which we interact with the search engines. SiteAdvisor estimate that 285 million clicks are made to hostile sites in the U.S. every month through search engine results. Hostile or unwelcoming websites have the ability to take advantage of users through bad practices such as spam, spyware and other scams, and unfortunately in most instances search engines do not filter these sites from their search results.

The study consisted of analyzing 1394 popular keywords against five major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL and Ask) to determine how safe they really were for users. MSN proved to be the safest garnering only 3.9 percent of dangerous sites, and Ask noticeably returned more than double the percentage of unsafe sites (6.1 percent).

SiteAdvisor ranked the safety of the search engines through a color coding system (as pictured below). The red score outlines the percentage of sites that pose a security threat for users when searching that particular search engine, whilst the yellow score shows the percentage of sites that pass the majority of SiteAdvisor’s tests but still warrant a caution for users.

% of Dangerous Sites by Search Engine

Source: SiteAdvisor, May 2006

Whilst each search engine delivered varied results for different keywords, risky keywords such as “free screensavers”, “bearshare”, “kazaa”, “download music” and “free games” posed the highest risk.

The riskiest keyword searches for Google were “free screensavers”, “bearshare”, “screensavers”, “winmx” and “limeware”. Interestingly though, even keywords not commonly considered dangerous such as “care bears” and ‘birthday cards” yielded high rates of risky sites too.

The test also compared organic versus paid listings. SiteAdvisor comment that the perception is that, “sponsored listings seem to offer an aura of safety” however their study revealed quite the opposite with organic searches proving considerably two to four times more safer results on certain keywords.

% of Dangerous Sites by Type of Result
Source: SiteAdvisor, May 2006

For a complete summary of SiteAdvisor’s study on the safety of search engines visit

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Rene LeMerle Rene is the marketing manager of - a global search engine marketing company. He also leads the marketing for - a web 2.0 style community for online and digital marketers. Rene has been in the industry since 1997 with much of that time spent helping businesses embrace the best of the internet and digital world.

View Rene LeMerle's profile

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