An American law firm in Michigan, Seikaly & Stewart, is suing its former SEO provider – but not because of a lack of success. The provider, who promises top rankings on Google (like all SEO firms) are actually being sued for allegedly employing “spammy” techniques with the law firm’s website, which violate Google’s guidelines. That comes via Eric Goldman.
Rainmaker Institue, the defendant in this case, which specialises in online marketing, is being accused of knowingly violating Google’s SEO guidelines by building “link farms” on behalf of the plaintiff’s several legal domains. It remains unclear from the complaint whether the plaintiff law firm suffered a ranking penalty from Google as a result of the link farming – known in the SEO world as a ‘black-hat’ tactic.
Goldman points towards an earlier New Jersey case that allowed a negligance claim against an SEO firm whose practices caused a duplicate content penalty for the plaintiff (their former SEO client).
In this current and on-going case, there have been no specific damages outlined. The complaint also does’t say whether the plaintiff’s domains have been penalised by Google or not.
Goldman says that clients of SEO firms should be more directly involved in the practices and techniques being used by the SEO firm. That being so though, we cannot expect ‘laymans’ to have sufficient knowledge on Google’s SEO guidelines.
More interesting to me are the following questions implied or directly raised by the action (depending on the outcome):
- When an SEO firm goes outside the bounds of established ‘white-hat’ protocol, does that make them automatically vulnerable to liability?
- Will the court limit liability in cases where the plaintiff has not done any “due diligence” on the SEO provider? How much responsibility does a buyer of SEO have to investigate the SEO firm?
- How will damages be assessed in situations where a penalty has been occurred? (fees paid, lost revenue?)
- What will be considered ‘recoverable’ when there is no Google ranking penalty?
Below is the full complaint made by the plaintiff –