The Wall Street Journal’s Cranky Consumer column (Page D2 today, no link) compared search engines on various tasks – finding a specific product, finding a local business, etc.  Recommendations – Froogle for finding the radio,  AOL’s yellow page service for zip-code based searching of local businesses.  Singled out for criticism – MSN, for being the least clear about graphically distinguishing paid- from un-paid search results.

I tried out MSN’s search and I see what the Journal is talking about.  In fact, if I hadn’t read the Journal’s article, I wouldn’t have been able to figure out which hit results were paid-for (they have a small ‘about’ link next to them which, I imagine, no one clicks) and which hits were on page one because of relevance. One has to question why MSN goes to these lengths to obscure what Google’s communicates easily).

Search engines can function as powerful brand directories but not if there is a disconnect between user expectations and user experience.