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What Are Metatags and Paid Placement Ads:
Are They Misleading or Helpful?
Mindy Thayer
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
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Search engines are used everyday as a service to help point people in the right direction when looking for certain items or information. Search engines use metatags and paid placement ads as a way to help locate certain Web pages on the internet. These metatags and some paid placement ads serve a useful purpose when searching for a certain topic or criteria. Some corporations feel that search engines are taking away business opportunities through the use of metatags and advertisements. Many debates have taken place about metatags and advertisements that imply, in order to receive a better listing on the first page of results businesses have to buy a placement or know how to word and use metatags properly. F. Gregory Lastowka makes certain claims about metatags and paid placement ads that cause his audience to perceive and misinterpret how metatags and paid placement ads are used and what they are used for throughout the internet today.

Paid placement ads are an advertisement that promotes a certain company or product. Another type of paid placement ads are keyed banner ads. People are lead to believe that keyed banner ads are a part of metatag abuse because "some search engines sell keywords to advertisers so that when that particular key word is entered as a search term, a banner ad for the company that has purchased the keyword appears above the search result" (Spinello 25). This questionable technique is used as a way for companies to promote their product. These advertisements are allowing other corporations the right to appear under a certain listing that relates to another corporation: for example "…company A can purchase the Dell trademark so that when a user enters the search term "Dell" they will see company A's banner ad above all the list of retrieved sites" (Spinello 24). In Lastowka's article he suggests that these companies are using paid placement ads as a way to buy their way to the top of the results page (142), but realistically they are a way for a company to advertise their product.

Throughout Lastowka's essay he gives his audience a false idea of what a paid placement or keyed banner ads are and what they do. Lastowka suggests that in order to appear on the first page of results they have to pay for a placement (142). Lastowka's audience is lead to believe this because he uses the example that the Gnucola industry has seen the effect of paid placement ads. The search engine E-Pointer allowed "Microcola … to appear on the first page of listings under the term "Gnucola"" (142), and placed Gnuocola several pages later because they did not pay a substantial sum to appear on the first page of listings. This claim that Lastowka makes about the Gnucola and microcola industries is absolutely fictional. Lastowka caused his audience to perceive a paid placement ad as something that can allow a company to buy their way to the number one listing on a results page.

In Lastowka's essay he also discusses the issues and uses of metatags. Metatags "are lines in a Web Pages underlying code that can be used to describe the page's contents" (Lastowka 143). Metatags are also used as a way for a company to be placed under a certain search engine, so they can be viewed by the public on the results page. Metatags are becoming more and more misused everyday. "Those who abuse metatags are usually attempting to unfairly divert consumers intended for a well known web site to their own web site by exploiting the goodwill built up by the trademark owner" (Spinello 23). Originally, metatags were not meant to hurt other companies or take away their consumers. "The purpose of metatags [was] to help search engines locate relevant Web pages. [Also] Internet search engines rely on these metatags to determine whether or not a Web site meets the search criteria indicated by the user" (Spinello 24). Metatags were supposed to be a helpful way for consumers to find the product or information they were looking for on the Internet. Consumers today are being misled by deceitful companies because they are using metatags that have absolutely nothing to do with their Web sites contents, which is a form of trademark infringement and metatag abuse.

Metatags are being questioned today because "most uses of metatags are quite benign when they are deployed properly - they represent a good faith effort to help users find information. But this simple technology is also subject to abuse" (Spinello 24). In Lastowka's essay he gives his audience numerous examples of how metatag abuse is taking place. One way that metatag abuse is affecting the internet is the process of "spamdexing". Spamdexing is a way for the unauthorized use of trademarks to appear in metatags. For example, "it was reported that after the death of Princess Diana, a number of unscrupulous web sites included her name within their descriptive metatags to lure unsuspecting web surfers looking for information about the Princess" (Spinello 24). Surfers did not realize that they were at a corrupt Web site because its metatags were invisible to the human eye. These metatags are allowing people to place company's trademarks and key words into their Web site's contents. Although the use of metatags is not illegal they can be very misleading at times. Many companies feel that metatags are causing a major discrepancy to take place, which is exactly the point. Every company needs a steady income and if deceiving the consumer through the use of "spamdexing" is getting them to their Web site then why should they stop using another company's trademark in their metatags.

Metatags and paid placement ads/keyed banner ads are misleading consumers everyday. Many companies know that metatags and advertisements do play a small part in the way they are presented on the results page. All companies and businesses pay the same substantial sum in order to be placed on a search engine, but no one really knows why or how companies are ranked the way they are. In reality consumers need to realize that not everybody in society is an honest business man or woman. Many people are only looking out for themselves. If deceiving and misleading somebody is a way for that company or individual to earn a profit or income then they will have no problem taking part in misusing metatags and participating in trademark infringement. Consumers need to understand that just because a company is ranked in the top ten listings on the result page does not make them a better source of information as a company or product ranked on the third or forth result page. People need to become more aware and realize that just because it is a result on any of their request pages does not mean that it is legitimate. People also need to read search results with a discriminate eye and make better judgments about what Web sites they are using and if they relate to the topic they are searching for. Overall, metatags and paid placement ads/keyed banner ads were a way for a company to promote their business. Originally paid placement ads/keyed banner ads were a way for a company to advertise their product or information above the search result page and a metatag was meant to help consumers locate information about a certain company or product easier, they were never meant to mislead or trick their consumers or hurt another company's business.

Works Cited

Lastowka, F. Gregory. "Search Engines Under Siege." Speculations: An Anthology For Reading, Writing, and Research. Jason Landrum, Matthew Wynn Sivils, and Constance Squires. Iowa: Dubuque, 2003. 141-152

Spinello, Richard A. "The Use and Abuse of Metatags." Ethics and Information \Technology Dordrecent: 2002. Vol 4, Iss.1; p. 24-30. Proquest. Oklahoma State University Lib. 21 Jan. 2005 <http://proquest.umi.com/>.

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