Which Search Engine Is Safest?

    December 13, 2006

Can the results associated with your search queries send you to malicious sites? It depends on which search engine you use, but the probability this would happen has decreased.

Thanks to an updated report from McAfee’s SiteAdvisor, we now know that, for the most part, Internet search is a much safer activity than it was in the past. However, that doesn’t mean search engines won’t occasional include a less-than-reputable site in their results.

McAfee’s report reveals a great deal about safe search results, but before that, I should probably explain the legend. SiteAdvisor ranks malicious sites as being either red or yellow. Red sites are the most dangerous while yellow sites are seen as cautionary. The report reveals more:

41.4% of red or yellow sites exhibit poor e-mail practices, 24.5% contain risky downloads, 26.8% are scam sites, 32.3% link to other risky sites and 3.0% contain browser exploits. Many sites posed multiple dangers.

Concerning the search engines, AOL has the safest results, with only 3.6% of their results containing sites that are marked by SiteAdvisor as being red or yellow. On the other hand, Yahoo replaced Ask.com as having the “most dangerous results” with 5.1% of their organic SERPs containing these types of sites.

Speaking of organic results, only 4.4% of organic results list these types of sites. However, McAfee also tested the percentage of paid results featuring sites deemed as dangerous and much to my surprise, 8% of sponsored results will lead to a red or yellow coded site. This indicates malicious site owners are willing to pay in order to capture visitors. It also means the search engines supplying the advertising are willing to take money from these site owners.

The paid search advertising model presenting the most risk? That honor goes to MSN’s sponsored results with 10.7%. Ask.com’s are the safest at 6.5%.

Other revelations from McAfee’s report:

*Adult search terms are twice as risky than non-adult terms, something to consider when searching for the latest Britney upskirt pics.

*Certain keywords will return results where over 90% of the listed sites are considered dangerous. Some of these keywords include “bearshare,” “free screensavers,” and “free ringtones”.

Focusing on first page results is no guarantee of safety either. McAfee reveals:

Search result safety remains roughly constant across the first five pages of results, indicating a lack of correlation between search result ranking and site safety. First page results, which are selected by 62% of searchers, are no safer than results on subsequent pages.

While these numbers may scare some users, it is important to remember the bottom line – only 4.4% of organic listings are considered dangerous by McAfee’s standards. This means while there is some risk involved with organic search, it doesn’t appear to be a haven for site owners with bad intentions.

However, these numbers can quickly change against your favor depending on what keywords you search. The main lesson from the SiteAdvisor report is to be aware.

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Chris Richardson is a search engine writer and editor for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest search news.