Is Google Liable for Results?

Emily Creech - July 24, 2009

We may not be thrilled all of the time with the search results that Google, or any search engine displays. However, who are we to blame for poor results?   What if the pages that are listed reflect poorly on your company or brand?   What if the content has the potential to deter customers or prospects?   Who should be responsible for this content? Should Google be to blame?   A recent case involving London-based Metropolitan International Schools (MIS) may have set the standard for potential cases that arise against search engines in the future.  

MIS tried to sue Google UK and Google, Inc. for the defamatory comments and complaints posted to an online forum about the company.   What is interesting, and very true, is the following statement:

“When a snippet is thrown up on the user’s screen in response to his search, it points him in the direction of an entry somewhere on the Web that corresponds, to a greater or lesser extent, to the search terms he has typed in,” Justice David Eady said. “It is for him to access or not, as he chooses. [Google] has merely, by the provision of its search service, played the role of a facilitator.”

This instance makes us reflect not only on our online reputation, but also on how the search results truly are simply an amalgamation of content that is relevant to a specific keyword that was searched. So, if Google’s not to blame for the results, who is?

The verdict is that if someone feels they have been offended or harmed in some way by content that Google is indexing, they should address their concern to the person who wrote and published the material. Google is not a publisher of content. Google is only a tool to bring a variety of relevant information to the searcher.

Keeping online reputation management in mind, there are things that you can do to help maximize the real estate on the search results pages with content that you have greater control over.   First, ensure that your website is optimized for search.   You want to be able to reserve those top two links for your own website’s listings.   Also, look to social media. Social media profiles, including LinkedIn company pages, Twitter accounts, Facebook fan pages, and YouTube channels all have the potential to rank well for brand name search queries.   So while you may not be able to control everything that is said on the internet, be sure to maximize the presence of pages where you do have a bit more control.   This will enable you to own more space than the listings that one website can cover. This not only helps with branding, but it can also build a positive impression of your brand by providing places for you to host compelling and engaging content for searchers to find.

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