Current Landscape of Online Pharmacy Vertical on Search Engines

LegitScript, KnujOn and NABP exposed the major search engines pharmacy advertising policies & questioned PharmacyChecker’s diligence with regulating their partner list of Internet pharmacies. They pressured the search engines to replace PharmacyChecker and implement VIPPS. The landscape of search engines is broken down in 2 unique sets of results for most queries. The first set is the Organic results. Organic results are the listings that each of the major engines display for free based on the engines algorithm. A sites rank is determined by the “relevancy” to the search query or keyword according to this algorithm. The other set is the “Paid” results, or the “sponsored” space where the engines monetize the landscape. Paid results are usually found above and to the right of the organic results.

Since the Google, Yahoo! and Bing change in advertising policy, the thousands of “rogue” websites which sell illegal drugs, have been able to thrive without legitimate competition. VIPPS affected both the Organic and Paid results for the internet pharmacy space. As expected, the paid space was affected since internet pharmacies cannot advertise without VIPPS. As a result the space was almost completely cleared. What was not expected was the effect on the Organic results. Since the market in such a competitive space like internet pharmacies was pretty much eliminated, many “rogue” and “illegal” internet pharmacies have dominated the top organic results for many query results. They have used “black hat” techniques to manipulate each major engines algorithm. Legitimate online pharmacies continue to languish because they cannot use these “black hat” techniques if they wish they retain their reputation. These “rogue” websites are generally located offshore outside U.S. jurisdiction. So while legitimate online pharmacies are not visible to searchers, illegal pharmacies continue to thrive in the space.

Organic Results

Black Hat Techniques Being Utilized by Online Pharmacies Rogue websites are dominating the current organic ranking for each of the major engines. They do so by high-jacking (also known as “page-jacking” or “cloaking”) top page score ranks such as .edu, .gov and .org websites. Page-jacking can be defined as the use of replicas of reputable web pages to catch users and redirect them to other websites. Page-jacking annoys users and can confront them with offensive material. It also reduces revenue for legitimate websites, and makes search engines less useful. An article written on SearchEngineCommando, (http://www.searchenginecommando.com/articles/titles/2.html), details cloaking in more detail.

“Page-jacking” was brought to a forefront in 1999 when the FTC sanctioned the pornography industry in the case FTC vs Pereira (http://searchenginewatch.com/2167501). This technique relies on scamming the search engine and is used in highly competitive and profitable markets. The implementation of VIPPS has opened the door for a large number of premier organic rankings in the online pharmacy to be dominated by websites that are “page-jacked.” This is apparent on each of the 3 major search engines, Google, Yahoo! and Bing. For example, on September 3, 2010 a search for the terms “Viagra” & “Viagra Online” on Google resulted in 70%+ of the organic listings to be from illegal rogue pharmacies. The top result from "Viagra Online" was for the site "psychology.highpoint.edu/" Clicking on this result, prompted a redirect to an illegal “rogue” online pharmacy "trustedpharmer.com."

Search results for the keyword term “Viagra” in February, 2011 on Google had the following results appear on page 1:
www.engineering.uga.edu: Faculty of Engineering: An interdisciplinary approach to engineering at the University of Georgia

www.umoi.net: The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church: Headquarters of the United Methodist Church in Oregon and southern Idaho. Directory, find a church, calendar, programs, publications, conference.