Jill Whalen has just published an interesting Q&A in her well-known "High Rankings Advisor" newsletter entitled "Lost Rankings Due to Site Redesign or Spam?" This article, which I recommend you read in its entirety, contains some very interesting and provocative points worthy of discussion.
To briefly summarize the scenario Jill described, Company X had their web site redesigned and, afterwards, their Google rankings went way down. Jill discovered that the SEO company they had hired was using some pretty questionable SEO practices.
Jill made two statements in particular that I would like to look at further.
"I don’t believe in relying on search engine rankings in order to successfully run your business"
Thank you Jill for reaffirming what I have written about previously (see under the heading "Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket" in my article "A Holistic Approach to Internet Marketing"), that any business that is dependent on being found in organic search results is being built on shaky ground. As I also mentioned in a recent post regarding Paid Links,
Google owes site owners nothing when it comes to organic search results and is free to rank its search results however it sees fit.Now, I certainly don't condone the practices employed by the SEO company that Jill mentioned in her article. However, I also think Company X was wrong in making its business dependent on achieving certain rankings from Google and it is sad that someone had to be laid off as a result of their rankings dropping.
It needs to be remembered that Google's mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," not to provide free marketing avenues to the world's businesses. It is generally recognized that Google has been actively trying to devalue commercial web pages in its search results so that informational pages are ranked higher. This is so that users of its search engine actually get information rather than commerical promotion when they search but it's also a way to encourage businesses to use the tool that Google has supplied for marketing via search, AdWords.
If you are building your business on Google's (or Yahoo's, or anyone else's) search results, think again because it is very shaky ground and not good business sense.
I’m quite sure that . . . there will be lawsuits based on this kind of bad SEO
Well, as you'll know if you're a regular reader of this blog, legal issues are a particular love of mine so this comment was just too provocative for me to ignore.
So, is this a realistic possibility and, if so, what would someone need to establish in order to successfully file such a lawsuit (in the U.S., that is)?
Well, I'll try to avoid getting too "legalesey" on you. In order to win such a lawsuit the action would probably be one based on negligence and one of the key elements you would need to establish (among several others) is as follows:
If the defendant undertakes to render any service in a recognized profession or trade . . . she is held, at a minimum, to the standard of care customarily exercised by members of that profession or trade--whether or not she personally possesses such skills. (Emphasis in original.)(Quoted from Heath v. Swift Wings, Inc, 1979 in Gilbert's Law Summaries: Torts).
What this means in practice is that you would need to establish that your SEO company engaged in (bad) practices that would not generally be engaged in by members of the SEO profession. However, there are 2 key points here.
1. Is SEO a "Recognized Profession or Trade?"
Without engaging in some full-blown legal research to discover whether any court has ever held that SEO is a recognized profession, this really is an open-ended question. However, in my opinion, given the vast number of SEO professionals and SEO companies that exist around the world, I would find it hard to imagine that this profession wouldn't be recognized.
Do you think SEO is a recognized profession? Why? Why not?
2. Is there a set of practices that are generally held to be acceptable and unacceptable among SEO professionals?
This point is really where the rubber hits the road. In order to establish a set of "generally acceptable SEO practices" you would probably need to consult some expert witnesses that were leading lights in the SEO field, such as Jill Whalen herself! However, do the well-known names in SEO agree as to what are and are not "generally acceptable SEO practices?" Another pretty open-ended question.
Personally, I think there are some generally recognized "good practices" and some generally recognized "bad practices." Between those extremes is a gray area or practices that may be categorized more as "personal preferences" or practices that some people believe work, perhaps even with good reason, but that others believe are merely SEO superstitions.
It certainly will be an interesting day in court when an SEO company is being sued for losing a company business due to its bad SEO practices and I can't wait to see what happens! Also, as Jill indicates, it really is just a matter of time before this happens, so if you're working for an SEO company or are an SEO professional yourself, make sure that you find out which practices are acceptable in your profession and make sure you use them, and only them, or you could eventually find yourself on the wrong end of a negligence lawsuit.
Tags: seo, negligence, lawsuit, google, jill whalen