Errant Google Snippet Draws Lawsuit For Webmaster

    June 2, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

Sometimes all it takes is precedent to fuel similar actions, so webmasters should be aware a Dutch court found a website operator liable for how a snippet appeared in Google’s search results, even if the appearance was the result of an algorithmic quirk. appears to be a real estate directory site, but the translation of the De Telegraaf Digital article mentions there is an auto dealer section as well. On that page, among others, was a listing for Zwartepoorte, a Dutch BMW dealership.
Website Blamed
After rumors circulated that Zwartepoorte was bankrupt, the dealership conducted a search with the (in Dutch) keywords “Zwartepoorte bankrupt.” Google brought back the Miljoenhuizen site with a snippet reading: Full name: Zwartepoorte. Specialty: BMW…This company has gone bankrupt.”

The key to the snippet is the ellipsis between “BMW” and “This.” Google’s algorithm searched the page for keywords “Zwartepoorte” and “bankrupt” separately and retrieved the lines of text with those words in them. The text, however, refers to two separate entries on the same page. Obviously, to the searcher not clicking through or not understanding how this works, the snippet suggests something untrue.

One immediate reaction is that this is Google’s error and not the website operator’s, but Zwartepoorte opted to sue Miljoenhuizen instead since snippet appearances are ultimately under the webmaster’s control. The dealership won this case, the judge agreeing the site owners could change the text on the webpage so that the text would no longer appear but had refused to do so.

Hat tip to 24Oranges.