figure 2. how clearer search-engine optimization guidelines would affect stakeholders.
+ less risk of lawsuits
– slightly less freedom
+ Able to guarantee clients that
their practices are accepted
+ optimization gets easier
– less value of inside knowledge
+ easier Website
optimization for search engines
+ less risk of sudden ranking demotion
+ increased relevance of results
al Trade Commission in 2002 recommending search engines ensure that
“paid […] results are distinguished
from non-paid results with clear and
conspicuous disclosures,” 16 all major
search engines implemented such
practices. Also, self-regulation would
help the process of regulation keep up
with the pace of technological change.
Finally, as clearer guidelines would arguably favor all stakeholders, search
engines would at least join the public
dialogue on self-regulation.
Policymakers could signal the importance of targeted manipulation
and initiate a dialogue on self-regulation by creating a committee of key
stakeholders to examine cases of rank
demotion and recommend ways to
improve today’s optimization guidelines. In addition, the topic of search-engine regulation could be put on the
agenda of the next United Nations
Internet Governance Forum ( www.in-tgovforum.org).
Self-regulation alone may not alle-
viate concern about rank demotion.
One idea from the Internet’s early
days may chart another way forward.
As disputes over domain names be-
came more heated in the 1990s and
U.S. trademark law proved insuffi-
cient, the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers (www.
icann.org) and the World Intellectual
Property Organization (www.wipo.
int) developed the Uniform Domain-
Name Dispute-Resolution Policy
( www.icann.org/en/udrp/udrp.htm) to
promote quick and inexpensive reso-
lution of domain-name conflicts. 6 A
similar body could help establish new
optimization guidelines and manage
the mediation process.
Here, we’ve argued for the need to
open a debate on how to regulate
targeted ranking manipulation that
hinders search-engine optimization.
These practices threaten democracy
and free speech, fairness, market efficiency, autonomy, and freedom
from deception. Making the case for
regulation can be based on the search
market’s failure of information asymmetries and concentration of market
power over an essential product in a
private entity. Our analysis of specific
regulatory proposals and their implications for stakeholders highlights
the benefits of establishing clearer
guidelines for optimizers.
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Patrick Vogl ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a graduate of the mphil
in technology policy at the Judge Business school,
university of cambridge, u.K.
Michael Barrett ( email@example.com) is a reader in
Information technology and Innovation and Director of
programmes at the Judge Business school, university of
cambridge, u. K.
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