The regulators have published joint guidelines for online advertising, which now includes guidance on the use of keywords used to trigger sponsored adverts and links on search engines. They say that any returning links from a search on specific keywords must not mislead users.
The OFT and FSA warn against firms that appear on searches for “independent financial advice” when they are not independent and firms that appear after searching “free advice” when they charge for advice.
The guidelines say: “Where the sponsored link is not in line with the search term used and the website returned by the sponsored link does not accurately reflect the expectations created by the search term used, the sponsored link would not be fair or clear and would be misleading.
“We would also remind firms not to bid on the names of other firms or competitors if this could result in misleading the consumer or creating an expectation that their firm is the same as the one the consumer has searched on.”
CBK Colchester principal Peter Chadborn says: “It is good the regulators have clarified this. If consumers are searching the term IFA, they might get an introduction to a site or producer which they think is independent advice when it is not.”
IFA Life founder and chief executive Phil Calvert says: “The irony is that the majority of real IFAs do not purchase keywords. Most do not use search engine optimisation techniques either and very few have a marketing plan, let alone an internet marketing plan. There are many other free ways to improve your Google rankings without having to purchase keywords.”