The regulator can fine companies that indulge in misleading advertising by violating its rules
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a warning to 24 search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, to ensure that online ads are very distinct from regular web search results.
This action by FTC, which has updated its 2002 recommendations, comes as search sites are displaying advertising more conspicuously on pages without doing much to highlight them, thus making it difficult for users to distinguish paid search ads from organic search results.
The update comes as users are accessing the internet on small-screened smartphones and other devices, rather than only on PCs and laptops.
The regulator, in a letter posted on its website, said, "We encourage you to review your websites or other methods of displaying search results, including your use of specialised search, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you clearly and prominently disclose any advertising."
The agency can fine companies that indulge in misleading advertising by violating its rules.
FTC has recommended the search engines to use darker shading or more striking borders in order to highlight marketing messages.
A suggestion has also been given to use "text labels" that can be easily identified by consumers to notice.