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Google Selling Top Organic Spot?

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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: News.com.au 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 Google.com.au 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.

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Google Selling Top Organic Spot?
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About Jordan McCollum
Jordan McCollum is a staff writer for the popular marketing blog Marketing Pilgrim. She has worked in search engine optimization with clients including 3M, Little Giant Ladders and ADP. After graduating from Brigham Young University, Jordan joined the SEO copywriting team at the Internet marketing firm 10x Marketing. After 10x closed its doors in December 2006, Jordan became a freelance writer and Internet marketing consultant specializing in SEO. She also has extensive experience with web analytics, conversion rate enhancement and e-mail marketing. WebProNews Writer
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