The internet is full of grey areas, and often, there’s a lag between online practices and laws and regulations. The UK ad world is set to make up some slack early next year when it sets new online ad regulations into effect. Until March of next year, the ASA, Advertising Standards Authority, can ban offensive and/or misleading ads on television, in print, and in banner ads online. The rest of the ad-filled online world has remained in that grey area. After receiving some 4500 complaints, the ASA was given the authority to more thoroughly police these adverts.
Under the code written by the Committee of Advertising Practices, the ASA would have the same authority to regulate online ads as they currently do for television and print medias. The rule would apply to ads only, not journalistic or editorial content. All the same, though, does this have any consequences for SEO and PPC campaigns? The ASA indicates that they will remove paid searches that violate their rules, and may also replace the ad in question with one that highlights the offense.
An ASA spokesperson commented, “This is a massive step. Consumers don’t differentiate between adverts on TV or online and this ensures that claims online will be subject to the same strict scrutiny of those in traditional media.”
The ASA will have jurisdiction over ads on blogs and in social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, as well as elsewhere on the web. This has led some SEOs to question whether the ASA will interfere with actual content on a blog or website if it appears that that content is “advertising” a product or service. While the ASA has said that that journalistic and editorial content will not be covered by their regulation, they do add the caveat that it will only be exempt if it relates to a “cause or idea,” instead of a product or service.
How does this impact businesses that maintain blogs to discuss – and promote – their products or services? It doesn’t if they do not produce misleading claims. But many SEOs and businesses are wary of leaving the decision of what is “misleading” up to the ASA. Compliance could be an issue in the short term until this is worked out.