I was curious, so I checked austin.citysearch.com. There's a dropdown selection box above the search results that lets you choose sorting by "Best Of" (meaning some sort of overall-quality ranking), "Distance", "Alphabetical", or "Top Results". For no reason I can imagine, "Top Results" is the default. But you can change it, and when you do it's visible in the URL as a parameter "sorted=dist"1.
There are "sponsored results" are interspersed in several places within the list, but these spots are adequately marked and on-topic, even suggesting highly-ranked "Italian" restaurants for the search on "pizza", so I can't complain there.
Oddly, "Top Results" is not defined or mentioned anywhere in their online help, so I guess it means whatever they want it to mean, which a cynic might suggest could be a secret form of paid placement.
Aha! Their terms of service indirectly talks about something that sounds like it might explain this:
Business listings located on Citysearch are selected for display in search results based primarily on their content in relation to the user-provided search terms. Consequently, both customer and non-customer listings will be included in a search results list, and Citysearch will not discriminate based on whether a business is a customer with regard to placement or inclusion in the business listings. Citysearch customers do not pay to be included in certain search result listings or to retain a specific ranking. However, due to the fact that Citysearch customers typically provide more content relative to their non-customer counterparts (e.g., in the form of offers, business biographies, etc.), it is possible that Citysearch customers will be displayed at a higher ranking in a search results page.I'm inclined to believe them, since they use the word "Indeed" in there like that.
Citysearch customer listings may be rotated within the search results due to a number of factors, none of which are determined by paid inclusion or paid placement. Thus, such variable placement of Citysearch customers is not intended to displace non-customer search results placement or inclusion. Indeed, non-customers with a good deal of quality content could appear higher on search result returns than Citysearch customers.
Their help page on "sort by" claims that Sort by Location Citysearch will always begin searches from the location that you select as "default." I'll make a guess and say that is only true if you've "signed in", so that they will remember your choices for default settings.
1. the search defaults to a 7.5-mile radius, which can be increased, apparently, up to 50 miles. I tried setting it larger to see if I could get results from other cities to come in, but got the same number of results, so I guess the databases are separate. As a side note, changing the URI to include "&radius_forced=40heymalookitmeimontv00" resulted in that text appearing in the URIs behind the column headings. That's probably a security flaw. One could think about adding something along the lines of "radius_forced=40heymalookitme%22%20oncl
cross-posted from another thread