So I was listening to my Buffalo Bills this Sunday hoping they can continue their winning streak. I like to listen to the game rather than watch it. This way, I can work on my various client search engine optimization projects while listening to football. I know, I work too much. I hear that all the time.

So something funny happened while I was listening to the Bills on the radio. Here is the quote that came out of my speakers: "Al, that was excellent defensive coverage by the Bills on that play, and for excellent coverage for your family, contact Blue Cross-Blue shield for the best health care available." A little later in the broadcast: "We have 15 minutes left in this quarter. Spend 15 minutes and save 30% on your car insurance at Geico dot com." As the broadcast went on, I heard at least 30 of these on all sorts of different topics.

So, clearly the media seller for whatever radio network I was listening to has been selling specific terms to be referenced for a commercial statement to be made by the same announcer who was calling the game, in the middle of the game. So, naturally, this made me think about search engine optimization and the entire ethics in advertising conversation. As you know, there is great discussion about paid blogging, ads on blogs, and paid search engine optimization campaigns. As a firm that offers professional SEO campaign management for Fortune 500 firms, we pay attention this debate.

As I think through what I just heard, it seems to me that in search engine optimization terms, this is just the same as a paid link in the middle of a blog, article or other web page. Going even deeper, this was like a link with specific anchor text. Here, the target term was "excellent coverage" or "15 minutes". These were used as the transitions to the commercial statements that followed. So, in search engine optimization terms, these were paid links with specific anchor text.

But in the SEO services word, this practice would clearly be considered SPAM by today's definitions. Let's walk through some of the common criteria for SPAM that I see on the Internet and apply them to this situation:

1) There was no a priori or concurrent disclosure that the broadcast was sponsored. Nobody told me before listening to this football game that I would be hearing advertisements. There was no little tag on my radio saying "this station is sponsored." Even the normal separation between content and commercials was not present.

2) The advertisement had nothing to do with the subject matter of the broadcast. What in the world does health care coverage for my family have in common with football. Nothing.

3) The advertisement was not designed to 'enhance the end-user experience.' Clearly I did not want to hear about health care coverage. There was no advantage for me, the end-user.

4) Google says to never buy or pay for links. There is no doubt this was sponsored.

So clearly, in terms of search engine optimization, if this practice had been used in an Internet medium rather than radio, it would be considered SPAM. But did I walk away thinking the radio station had done something inappropriate? Of course not. As I've said many times, the search engine optimization industry is simply so new, it is confused and disorganized. The definitions are inconsistent, illogical, and largely driven by those with the largest budgets for search engine optimization campaigns. Will this continue this way? Not on your life. Perhaps the first time someone sold a "during broadcast" advertisement on the radio, there was a huge uproar. But now, it's completely common place and totally accepted as part of how the advertising system works. You get a radio show for free, and you accept that there is inherent sponsorship driving the entire system. No bad names or negative labels. If you don't like it, you don't tune in.

News flash: There is inherent sponsorship driving the Internet and search engine optimization today! It is just not yet understood by the masses. But it will be. And as it is, the bad names will seem no more appropriate than they do for the football game I listened to today.