As an Internet lawyer, I’m hearing the uproar out there because Google has changed its search engine algorithms to penalize websites that deliver “low-value” content.
Some website owners claim that a Google slap is illegal because it hurts their businesses. Can Google legally knock your site down in the search engine rankings?
Google is a publicly-traded company (not owned by the government) that crawls the web and ranks content as it sees fit. Those who use Google Search are wanting relevant results, not low-value content.
And Google gets to decide the value it places on the content of each website. You don’t…and neither do I.
EXAMPLE: I’d love for Google to place Website Legal Forms Generator software ( http://LegalFormsGenerator.com ) as the #1 result for privacy policies every other search anyone does about protecting their online businesses from lawsuits, government investigations and other legal dangers.
But you can’t force Google to do something like that, just like Google can’t demand you install a Google Search box at the top of every page on your website.
Like Google, you can expect Bing and the lesser search engines to constantly improve their algorithms in order to produce what they believe are relevant search results. That may seem unfair if you’ve been slapped…but it’s their ballparks so they get to make the rules.
Can the owner of a search engine be held liable for results? Sure. If the search engine results are rigged to intentionally slap you because you’re a competitor, there might be a deceptive trade practice occurring.
Similarly, if the search engine results are “fixed” by intentionally reporting falsely that your website infects visitors with viruses or spyware, there might be liability. If that happens, you’ll want to huddle with your Internet lawyer to map out a game plan.
But modifying algorithms and applying them across the board is a business decision, not violating the law. If Google screws up doing this, it will have to backtrack or a competitor like Bing will grab market share by providing more relevant results.
To your online success!
-Mike the Internet lawyer