Posted September 10, 2007 3:55 pm by with 15 comments

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I’m not sure if this can be filed under “lawsuits filed purely for publicity” quite yet, but apparently the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) is suing Google for selling the #1 organic spot in their search results. Now, either someone is confused, or the rest of the SEO industry is seriously getting gypped.

Let’s go with seriously confused: states that the suit “alleges [that] Google does not do enough to differentiate ‘organic’ search results – those ranked by relevance – from sponsored links which appear at the top of the results page.”

For a laugh, read the rest of the story:

Trading Post chose the dealership names through AdWords, a Google commercial program that sets up hyperlinks.

AdWords linked any search on the dealerships’ names to the Trading Post site through a link embedded in the search results.

Trading Post then paid Google “per click”, Ms [Christine] Adamson [for the ACCC] said. “That’s how we found out about it,” she told Justice Jim Allsop. . . .

“Google represents to the world that its search engine is so good that it can rank, out of the multitudinous entries of the world wide web, these entries in order of relevance of the user’s query,” she said.

“Part of that (reputation is) that it’s not influenced by money, it’s influenced by relevance.”

Justice Allsop asked: “And that’s misleading because there would be results put at the top which are placed there not by reference to relevance but because people have paid to have that?”

“Yes,” Ms Adamson answered.

Hm… so, none of these things (from actual SERP) are clear enough indicators?

Google ads are clearly marked and differentiated
A shaded yellow box, different information and the phrase “Sponsored Links” . . . yeah, pretty well hidden.

In 2005, the box may have been blue, matching their design a bit better. So sue them. (Oh, wait. . . .)

Other parts of the case may have a bit more merit: Read/WriteWeb summarizes the ACCC’s case:

Specifically, the ACCC names online car dealership Trading Post, which purchased sponsored ads on Google in 2005 for search results relating to searches for the names of other New South Wales car dealerships. The ACCC argues that by using the name of those dealerships in their ads, the Trading Post links appeared to point to the official dealership web sites or implied an affiliation that did not exist. The ACCC alleges that this is a breach of Australia’s Trade Practices Law.

I’m not familiar with Australian Law, but I’ve been told that to protect a trademark in AdWords here in the US, you first must file a claim with Google. If the situation is similar in Australia, did the companies in question do that?

The judge has stated that the case is “opaque and repetitious” and granted a motion by Google Counsel Anthony Bannon to force the ACCC to file summaries of its cases (suing both Google Australia and Google Ireland).

Further decisions were scheduled October 4.

  • This sounds like a case of linkbait. They cannot be serious?!

  • While this case is seriously flawed and will doubtless lose, I’d be interested to see a genuine poll that indicates whether the general Google using public are aware that those links in the yellow box are bought and paid for.

    My thinking is that because of how people read on the web, there is a large majority that aren’t aware that what they are clicking are paid links.

  • If one didn’t want their copyrighted brand to become a keyword one can purchase in Google AdWords, they can just file a claim and BAM! they’re gone!
    The keyword “Nokia” is a clear example of this.

  • This just proves my thinking. People are idiots all over the world. Not everyone of course. But those that are will always draw attention to themselves. Or, a better way to state it, those that are will always attract the media.

    Just like here in the South. No sooner has a tornado slipped back into the sky than you will see the most stereotypical “hick” looking like they just fell off the tobacco wagon describing the storm as sounding like a freight train.

    I hope this does not offend anyone but I definitely see a pattern of media and moron mingling for comfort. I think the bright lights on the cameras attract certain people.

  • I agree with Brian. This has to be about promotion. They can’t seriously think they’re going to win this case.

  • I’d also be interested to see a genuine poll that indicates whether the general Google using public are aware that those links in the yellow box are advertising instead of search results.

  • I hear Google make a big rip about webmasters and paid links… but google is basically doing the same thing. And yes people do get confused with the sponsored links – I know several people who don’t distinguish the difference between organic and the lightly colored yellow box with a small print word all the way on the other side. i am sure that the reason we had hackers on the sponsored links a while back is becuase people thought and probably still think that it’s part of the organic search. And I mean in America…….

  • They are like DMOZ and Shoemoney…

  • I can’t believe that people are that stupid! Then again, I think I can.

    Lets face it, Google can do anything they want to. At the end of the day, if you don’t like it, don’t use their service. That’s pretty much the sum of it.

    But yeah… who would have guessed that “sponsored link” meant that people paid for those positions?

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  • Personally after dealing with SEO for so long, I am surprised that the companies with the trademark infringments didn’t contact google directly…

    I can see that if they did and didn’t get a result they could report them to the ACCC but in reality they should of lodged complaints with the Telecommunications Ombudsman first.

    If you can’t understand the reason for the yellow box, there is still the sponsored links text at the top of that section telling you they are not the organic results.

    I am just bemused that the ACCC is wasting it’s money in what seems a futile court action.

  • They are not going to win this i case i think

  • Selling top spot in listings is the same as selling the ‘featured sponsored link spot’. Google can do what they like!

  • Looks like this is common place now. A shame really because it takes the fun out of trying to get that all important top 5 spot.

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