Do Enhanced Local Listings Violate FTC Rules?

When Google launched its enhanced local listings it didn’t occur to me that they might violate FTC rules around disclosure of paid ads vs. “organic” results. Danny Sullivan wrote an extensive post at SEL about the issue last night: Google Blurs The Line Between Paid & Unpaid Results Again

The bottom line I think is that these sponsored listings don’t affect Google’s algorithm in any way, according to what I was told. In other words, the listing would appear in the same position regardless of whether the business paid the $25. So I don’t think the program violates FTC rules as articulated. That would be a different story if Google were ranking the listing differently in terms of whether businesses paid the fee. 

The other thing that’s interesting in my anecdotal observation — remember this program is only available in Houston and San Jose (CA) right now — is that the SMBs are using enhanced listings to stand out visually. In the example above the company is choosing to highlight its website, which you would get to anyway by clicking the law firm’s link. In other words, there’s no “enhanced” content there, just he yellow icon that makes the link more visually prominent. 

Do you think that the enhanced listings program in any way runs afoul of the separation between “organic” and “paid” ads.


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