02.The role of advertising
It’s a good idea to be aware of how advertising can affect what you are viewing. Comparison websites often generate revenue when you click on a link or fill out a form. This includes typical 'pay per click' online banner ads - where advertisers pay host websites when people click on a designated link or apply for a product.
For finance comparison websites, this could also include links in summary tables (see below), comparison tables or as a part of a special offer. In some cases these links can make it easier for consumers to access products, and it doesn’t have to affect the content you are seeing. In other cases, host websites might skew the way information is displayed in order to get more clicks on the profitable links.
Good websites are transparent about advertising practice and place disclaimers about the content being displayed, but the need to rank well in Google searches, editorial decision making and revenue raising can sometimes leave the line between advertising and analysis blurred.
CHOICE is working with major finance comparison websites to continue improving practices in this evolving industry. However, there are many areas where transparency could be improved, especially when you consider the number of sites out there. Whether it’s online or in physical stores, it’s important to do your homework before committing to a purchase, and to make sure you’re getting the full picture when comparing products. That way, you can end up with the best product instead of the best-advertised product.
Deal or no deal
On these sites, you will also find summary tables or market snapshots labelled ‘Hot Deals’, ‘Top Picks’ or ‘Popular Products’ to name a few. Here are some examples involving high-interest savings accounts.
UBank features at the top of each table and at the time was offering the highest rate (without restrictive conditions), but other accounts, such as ING Direct’s Savings Maximiser (then offering 6.35% promotional rate), are not featured. As RateCity and InfoChoice’s small print indicates, only ‘some’ of the top accounts on offer are listed (the same goes for Mozo, although the small print was elsewhere at time of writing).
Clearly, editorial decision making is playing a part here (this applies to other categories too), and it highlights the problem with any simplified market snapshot. You often can’t tell what criteria are being used, whether it is relevant to you or not and what motives are behind the ‘top’ product choices.
Compare, ditch and switch
CHOICE’s own financial comparison website was launched late last year to coincide with the Better Banking campaign. Our Compare, Ditch and Switch is an advertising-free finance comparison site you can use to view the latest savings accounts, credit cards, home loans, transaction accounts and term deposits.
The website is powered by Mozo’s extensive financial database. It is updated frequently to provide the most recent and relevant information. With Mozo’s help, we have tailored this technology to ensure objectivity. The market snapshots on the home page are based solely on objective criteria (just use the tabs to view a product category of your choice), or compare the entire market using the ‘Compare All’ buttons.