Advertising has greatly evolved with the expansion of the internet. Years ago, advertising consisted of taking out a billboard, calling the local newspaper, taking out a section or a page, the yellow pages, etc. However, advertising has recently expanded to the internet with the use of websites, search engines, and even social media.
When we are interested in a specific product, we might go online, open google, and give them a quick search. We look for websites, google places page, reviews, and maybe even look at websites such as Yelp if we’re really looking for something.
Companies use ‘search engine optimization,’ or SEO, to increase their appearance in search engine results. These searches pick up a company’s website, social media profiles and channels, articles, and news articles. One way to increase visibility online is by the use of a Google product known as AdWords. AdWords is a pay-per-click program which allows a company to advertise on Google search results using specific keywords related to their business. When someone searches for that keyword in a local area, the company website appears first in the results. The company, however, only ‘pays for the click’ if the website is clicked on. Seems simple. Well it is, but could be expensive for the company owner.
SEO companies specializing in expanding their clients’ presence online have found ways to optimize while using non-ad Google search results. e-ventures Worldwide, LLC, an SEO company doing just this, however, has filed a lawsuit against Google for manually removing a total of 365 websites belonging to their clients from search results. By going around the algorithm and not advertising with AdWords itself, e-ventures Worldwide was able to save money for their client while still enhancing the company’s name online. Google, as you can imagine, was not happy.
According to their complaint, e-ventures Worldwide claims Google had an anti-competitive, economic reason for manually banning their clients’ websites from appearing in Google searches. Such claim was plausible enough to prevail in a Motion to Dismiss filed by the plaintiffs. Google claims that their ban is because e-ventures Worldwide violated guidelines set in place to prevent manipulations of the search rankings. However, Google claims that they have a right to remove any website at their own discretion. Under Google’s broad power of removal, “any website owner that attempts to cause its website to rank higher, in any manner, could be guilty of ‘pure spam’ and blocked from Google’s search results, without explanation or redress.”
Such discretion given to Google seems too broad. Google could have discriminatory reasons to remove a company from search results, without the company being aware or given notice of such removal. This decision could have a great impact on small, local businesses trying to make a name for themselves. e-ventures Worldwide may not be the only company manipulating the algorithm to increase their presence online in order to avoid paying AdWords. Google, if successful in this suit, could control the future of advertising.