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What is a Sponsored Link? Are Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Hubpages sponsored links all the same?

Updated on November 20, 2009
It's true. Your search habits cost millions of dollars. And LOTS of it is totally wasted.
It's true. Your search habits cost millions of dollars. And LOTS of it is totally wasted.

In many ways, this article is intended to be a public service

Most people do not realize what a sponsored link is, what the difference is between that and an organic link, and what effects your search habits have on the industry as a whole.

In this article you're going to learn exactly what a sponsored link is, how to spot one, how to analyze one, and how your interaction with them affects the industry, and costs businesses all over the world hundreds of millions of dollars.

What is a Google Sponsored Link?

A sponsored link is a paid advertisement.

What does that mean? It means that a business, or individual, paid Google to display that link on your search result page. In this industry, every single time you click on a sponsored link, the advertiser has to pay Google money. That's right. Your innocent little click, while surfing the web, is costing someone money - EVERY time.

So what is the difference between a Sponsored Link and an Organic Link?

There is a HUGE difference. For the sake of brevity; Organic Links do not cost the website owner any money per click. As opposed to a sponsored link, which is a "pay-per-click" model (aka PPC). That means each click on a sponsored link costs the advertiser money, as opposed to the organic listings, which do not cost any money per click.

We're going to look at a series of images, and talk about them. Below you will see a relatively normal Search Engine Result Page (known as a SERP in the industry).

Figure (A). [above]
Figure (A). [above]

The image is slightly blurry, because Hubpages embeds the image, and compresses it (which is a drag, even when it is linked) but the image should be familiar enough.

Can you spot the difference between sponsored links and organic links?

Since we're talking about, you're probably more conscious, and looking for the answer, and you can probably find it. The next image (Figure A.2, [below]) is the same exact image with some mark-up graphics on it to emphasize what we're talking about.

While searching on Google, if you're not careful, it is not entirely different than sorting through junk mail.

You may be surprised to learn that the links that appear at the top of the SERP on Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, and all the other search engines are often times NOT the most relevant result, but an ad begging you to "buy me, buy me!".

If you're shopping, this is a good thing. If you're researching, or require customer service from a service provider, clicking these links are generally NOT the right thing to do.

Let's look at the image below.

Figure (A.2) [Above]
Figure (A.2) [Above]

The above SERP is almost entirely advertisements

It might be shocking, but it is true. The orange arrow is point to the only organic listing in the graphic. At this point, a VERY brief lesson in terminology might be in order ....

So, what is an Organic Listing on Google?

An organic listing / link (the word listing and link can be used interchangeably) is a brief article of information, with a link, on your SERP (search engine result page) that is directly related to the keyword phrase you typed into Google's search box. Google crawls and catalogs nearly every website on the internet, and determines what its content is, and what it is related to, and how valuable the website is. This is generally referred to as "Google's Algorithm". But I wouldn't concern yourself with that ... It's a misnomer anyway.

The Organic Listings are displayed in order or Most Relevant, to Least Relevant, from top to bottom, respectively. At the bottom of each SERP you'll usually see a link that says "next page" or something like that. Each page after page 1 is increasingly less significant than the previous.

If nobody pays for organic listings, how are they determined?

A team of professionals could write a series of encyclopedias about the answer to this question. It is super massive, but I will explain in short, so you can have a functional understanding.

Google, and all the big boys, use a complex series of data points gathered from each site, and link on the Internet and catalog the results in thousands databases. Whenever you type a keyword, or keyword phrase into Google, it cross references that phrase with it's organic listings (and it's advertisers listings) and returns a Result Page (which we've been calling a SERP).

Showing up on the Organic Listings means that, by virtue of its content, value, and existence, that page has been deemed "relevant to your search" by the search engine, and is delivered to you. It is important to deliver highly relevant results, so you will continue to use the search engine (and hopefully click the ads, from Google's perspective).

Can you spot the Organic Links and The Sponsored Links?

Figure (B) [Above]
Figure (B) [Above]

Let's see how you did.

Compare your findings to the image below that has the mark-up on it. Hopefully you were able to determine the difference. This one is intended to be more tricky.

Figure (B.2) [Above]
Figure (B.2) [Above]

Your search habits cost MILLIONS OF DOLLARS! But you can help change that, by being more educated about what you're doing while searching

While it's important for Business owners and marketing professionals to implement best-practices in their jobs, I think the same can be said for the casual consumer. There are some things you should know, and some best practices you should consciously strive to implement.

  • If you're shopping, and the sponsored link is relevant to your search, then by all means click on the best ad.
  • If you're interested in purchasing a service, and you see a sponsored link, then please click the most relevant ad.
  • Don't just click the top ad! It is NOT always the most relevant result. Read the ads, and click the one that is most relevant.
  • If you are not shopping for a new product, or service, DO NOT click the sponsored listings. You will be taken to an advertisement. You'll be taken into a sales environment. So if you are not going to buy, or don't want to be "sold" then please stick to the organic listings.
  • If you're researching something, just for general knowledge, or for whatever reason, the Organic Listings are almost ALWAYS more relevant than the sponsored links. So, unless you want to waste time, and the economies futile money supply, do not click the sponsored listings in this scenario.
  • The name of your service provider, followed by a .com is probably their web address, and can be typed directly into your browser, not a search box.

If you already have the product, service, or are seeking customer service ...

Don't just blindly search, and click the top one or two results and then get pissed when someone tries to sell you something. Let's say you're a DISH Network customer. If you already have service, and just need the answer to a question, and you go to Google and type in "DISH Network" - you are going to be served advertisements designed to sell service to new customers.

Often times typing in the name of your service provider will return them as number one in the organic rankings. Please skip the sponsored listings, as it is an unnecessary expense for the retailers trying to stay in business. They have no use in talking to someone who already has the product.

Websites are ubiquitous. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

If your service provider is DISH Network, or DIRECTV, or something similar ... general rule of thumb states that you can just plug in "" into the address bar, and press enter and be there. If you are uncertain of your service providers website - look on your bill, or the organic listings! Don't click a sponsored link ... it is draining millions from the economy and padding Google's profits.

I'd be willing to say HALF of all of Google's revenue is generated by accident. Conversely, HALF of all money spent on Search Engine Advertising is wasted - an accident, by the casual web-surfer.

Think about that. That is a staggering number. And I'm fairly confident in that number (I do this for a living).


Hopefully this helps clear things up for people.

I know that there are millions of people out there, that if they knew this, would not consciously waste the money of business owners by clicking a link when they are not a prospective customer.

It is also important to know the difference between a sponsored link and an organic link on Google, Yahoo, Bing, or whatever, when searching because you would read an ad differently - wouldn't you? You would be aware that they are trying to sell you.

Let me know if you have any questions. I will happily answer them. I hope this is useful!

Be peaceful on your way,



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    • profile image

      Cheryl Johnston 8 months ago

      Excellent - how on earth does one increase one's presence from an organic perspective?

    • profile image

      art 16 months ago

      how do you delete a Sponsored links from a site? It block me from shopping . Can anyone help??

    • profile image

      Daisy 2 years ago

      Had NO Ideal.....need to put this page on peoples cell phone....

      so, they can see it,,,,,,

    • profile image

      ltsb 7 years ago

      i learned a lot today. thank you very much.

    • GarunaLiu profile image

      GarunaLiu 7 years ago

      It's clear. Thanks!!

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Well, I did have an example, involving the keyword "Minisimulator IIC", but when I tried to replicate it today, things had changed. At the time when I noticed this, there were old newspaper accounts about the Minisimulator IIC that an Altavista search found on the first page, but Google only accessed recent items, such as my own mention of it on Hubpages. But it looks like the newspaper accounts have disappeared now, so... I can't back up my story. Sorry.

    • Time Spiral profile image

      Time Spiral 7 years ago from Florida

      Different engines will absolutely return different results. But I have not observed any large relevancy discrepancies. Do you have any specific examples that support your theory?

      I'd love to see what you're talking about.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Time Spiral, my experience is that Altavista is more concerned with relevance than Google. Altavista will find something relevant on an obscure topic, even if that site gets zero traffic. But Google behaves strangely when you look up something obscure. It will give irrelevant results, bypassing the material that really touches on the keyword for things that get more traffic.

    • Time Spiral profile image

      Time Spiral 7 years ago from Florida


      Thanks! Too bad this article gets very little foot traffic :/

      The site's 'authority' as you put it is factored into the relevancy equation, yes. But, the root of the relevancy equation is ALWAYS based on the search term/phrase.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

      Time Spiral, this was a good treatment of the issue, and I think it may help many internet surfers who are not aware of the difference between a sponsored link and an organic link.

      Isn't it true, though, that even organic results in a Google Search are not categorized strictly on relevance to the search terms used? Isn't the authority of the site also a big factor?

    • profile image

      Cebu House 7 years ago

      I totally agree. A lot of people would just click on the top link without reading its description and not knowing whether its the most relevant to what they are searching. Nice article!

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      thanks for another very informative article. I'm sure the average internet user is not aware of how much money is wasted on our ignorance or laziness in doing a search! it's nice to learn something that can actually help the economy.

      thumbs up, TS.