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Ranking of search results: Do’s and Don’ts for Online Businesses under EU law

Online platforms have become the go-to destinations for individuals seeking information, products, and services. In this context, search result rankings have become an essential feature, enabling users to easily search for products or compare different options. Think of it as a virtual personal shopper, always at your service, showing results that are (supposedly) tailored to your preferences.

You must note, however, that in the European Union (EU), there are rules in place regulating ranking of search results and imposing certain limitations. The goal is to create a level playing field for all businesses, big or small, and to protect consumers from deceptive practices. Transparency and fairness are at the heart of these rules. To help you seize the opportunities of rankings while reducing the risks, we’ve listed some practical do’s and don’ts that can help you build a more transparent strategy and comply with EU law.

1. DO’s

  • Identify and explain the main parameters used for your search results

When users search for information or products online platforms, platforms can use various key parameters to influence search result rankings. These can include keyword matching, user preferences, location, popularity, ratings, reviews, completed sales, relevance, availability, click-through rates, consumer search behaviour, etc.

To comply with EU regulations, it is essential to identify and explain these key parameters, and inform consumers about how the different factors relate to each other, for example which ones are more important. This information should be displayed alongside the search results and also be included in your general terms and conditions, using clear and understandable language tailored to your users.

When explaining your rankings, be specific and detailed. Reflect accurately on what determines the ranking under your ranking mechanism. Don’t forget that the explanations must properly reflect what determines ranking under the ranking mechanism that you have in place.  So, even when the main parameters involve the more unexpected factors, which a user may assume are irrelevant, or when they involve factors such as temporary changes or personalization, include them in your explanations.

  • Allow users to change ranking preferences and settings

Enable users to customise their search results based on the specific parameters that you use. You can do so by offering users a range of filters and sorting options that allow them to modify the parameters influencing search results. Consider providing filters for relevance, popularity, price, location, or any other relevant criteria. Sorting options like newest, highest rated, or most relevant can also enhance the user experience and provide greater control over the search results.

  • Present paid results in a significantly different manner than the ‘natural’ search results

If your platform offers paid ranking options, it is crucial to be transparent with consumers, differentiate your paid results from organic search results clearly. Utilise distinct colours, shapes, fonts, texts, images, sizes, or other layout choices to ensure paid results are easily distinguishable. Additionally, include a label with clear and explicit text, such as ‘advertisement’ or ‘paid position,’ to inform users that a business has paid for that particular spot. Transparency regarding paid placements helps maintain user trust and avoids misleading practices. 

2. DON’Ts

  • Don’t offer any paid search results without making clear what they are

Clearly communicate that businesses have paid for higher or more prominent positions in the search results. This information should be prominently displayed on the product or service offer page and also included in your general terms and conditions. Openness about the paid ranking process builds trust and avoids consumer confusion.

  • Don’t present any search results that do not correspond with the sorting selections and filters

Respect the sorting selections and filters chosen by users. Ensure that your platform delivers search results aligned with the selected criteria. Avoid misleading users by using sorting selection options that do not reflect their actual impact on the search results.

  • Don’t disclose commercially sensitive information

When describing and explaining your ranking parameters, don’t disclose commercially sensitive information about your algorithms, the detailed functioning of their ranking mechanisms or trade secrets.

How can Logan & Partners help?

Complying with EU rules regarding search result rankings is crucial for online platforms operating within the European Union. For further information on the rules applicable to your business, please contact Isadora Werneck and schedule a free 20-minute consultation.

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