What should be a simple Google search can quickly turn into a nightmare if you aren’t careful. Not everything you see on the internet is safe, and just because it’s on the tech giant’s platform doesn’t mean you should click it.
Read on to learn why you should stop clicking on sponsored Google search results.
Risky Google search results
Hackers and scammers are incredibly crafty when tricking people on the internet. Some criminals use fake websites to sell products that don’t exist or impersonate others by spoofing a URL.
These methods rely on potential victims clicking on malicious links. Now, criminals are incorporating tricks to get malicious sponsored ads to appear in Google results.
Typically, a website’s ranking in Google searches depends on several factors, such as monthly users, trustworthiness and the frequency of content. But that organic ranking can easily be sidestepped by paying for a website to rank higher.
This is usually done through a sponsored link at the top of the first search result page. Since it’s at the top of search results, people are more inclined to click on it if they don’t notice the sponsored tag. And that is how criminals get people to visit their bogus websites.
According to author Cory Doctorow, this happened to him when searching for a Thai restaurant. Tweeting about his experience, he shared a screenshot of a fake restaurant listing popping up first as a “sponsored” result, with the actual URL shown several rows below.
So there’s a great Thai restaurant in my neighborhood called Kiin. Yesterday, I searched for their website to order some takeout. Here’s the Google result. pic.twitter.com/JFCyvXV9be— Cory Doctorow (@firstname.lastname@example.org) (@doctorow) February 24, 2023
How to avoid malicious Google ads
While it might not be true for all sponsored results, there is a chance that a link won’t take you where you want to go. Criminals use SEO tricks and pay to get malicious ads near the top of Google search results. If you click them, you could end up on a bogus website.
Here are some tips on how to stay safe when searching online:
- Avoid clicking on sponsored links or advertising when searching for something through Google. Instead, type all web addresses directly into your browser, so you know you’re going to the official site.
- If you are unsure about a link, hover your cursor over the link to get a preview of the destination.
- If you see a message from a website that claims you have a virus, it’s most likely a scam. Don’t call the number or click anything on the site. Close your browser immediately and avoid revisiting that site.
- Always have a trusted antivirus program updated and running on all your devices. We recommend our sponsor, TotalAV. Get an annual plan with TotalAV for only $19 at ProtectWithKim.com. That’s over 85% off the regular price!
Security tip: Check what devices have access to your Google account