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Sponsored Links More ‘Risky’ Than Organic

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Sponsored links are two to four times as likely as organic links to lead a searcher to a “risky” or “dangerous” website, according to McAfee’s Site Advisor researchers Ben Edelman and Hannah Rosenbaum. The keyword most likely to deliver those links: [free screensavers].

Edelman and Rosenbaum revealed in a report entitled The Safety of Internet Search Engines, which reflects the results of a 4-month keyword and search result analysis, that search engines like Ask.com and Google may not be doing enough to protect searchers from stumbling onto risky sites rank with adware, popups, scams, and spam activity.

From the report Overview:

The rise of Internet search brings a new type of risk. Hostile Web sites might seek to harm users or take advantage of them – whether through spyware, spam, scams, or other bad practices – because search engines often do not filter these sites from their results.


Organic results returned questionable links about 3 percent of the time, whereas 8.5 percent of sponsored results attempted to dupe searchers into visiting dangerous websites. Ask.com scored the worst for risky search results with 6.1 percent of results being questionable. MSN was declared the safest by the researchers, returning only 3.9 percent. Both Google and AOL retrieved 5.3 percent, while Yahoo! brought back 4.3 percent.

Page one results were only moderately safer than results for pages two through five and Edelman and Rosenbaum estimate that US consumers make 285 million clicks to hostile sites each month from search results.

“It’s not unusual” wrote Edelman, to see ads for notorious spyware vendors like Direct Revenue; for sites that charge for software available elsewhere for free; and for spammers that send hundreds of mesages per week, if a user enters a single email address.”

The researchers issued a warning to consumers and a challenge to Google to update its advertising editorial guidelines to prohibit these practices:

Users can’t count on search engines to protect them; to the contrary, we find that search result rankings often do not reflect site safety. Users are at especially high risk when visiting search engine advertisers — even though search engines are well equipped to impose strict guidelines on sites buying prominent placement.


The top 10 riskiest Google results by individual keyword and proportion of sites deemed at least moderately risky, according to McAfee Site Advisor:

1. Free screensavers 64%

2. Bearshare 57%

3. Screensavers 54.6%

4. Winmx 50.5%

5. Limewire 46.4%

6. Download yahoo messenger 43.7%

7. Lime wire 40.9%

8. Free ringtones 38.1%

9. D4l 37.6%

10. Ares 36.6%

Don’t let the pop tech culture keywords fool you. The operators of these sites have few scruples and also target keywords like [bible], [Jesus], and [Benjamin Franklin].

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Sponsored Links More ‘Risky’ Than Organic
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