SEO MALPRACTICE – It’s Already Here
Internet marketing firms are becoming popular lawsuit targets–both by harmed competitors and their own clients. One of the more recent examples comes from the New Jersey case of D’Agostino v. Appliances Buy Phones, Inc.
What did the SEO firm allegedly do?
I won’t get into too many details, but for marketers that want to know the specifics, they can read Professor Goldman’s Technology and Marketing Law Blog post on the case. Essentially, the website developer built a primary ecommerce site. Then, the parties apparently agreed to build a second site that was optimized for SEO. The developer was supposed to receive a portion of the revenues from the second site.
The marketer/developer indexed the site in Google Products which caused Google to penalize both sites for having duplicate content. The company then shut down the second site to improve the results for its first primary site.
The company refused to pay the developer/merketer so he sued the company and Google. As expected in most business cases, the company filed a counterclaim against the developer/marketer for the damage caused to the primary site. The court denied a motion to dismiss allowing the case to go forward for now possibly forcing a jury to determine whether a supposed SEO expert who causes a Google double content penalty could be negligent.
Not the First Example
I twice wrote earlier about the Roger Cleveland v. Prince case where the internet marketer/hosting company got hit with a huge punitive damage claim for allegedly helping someone sell counterfeit goods–more than the actual person selling the knock-offs.
So, What Do You Do?
The pithy answer would be not to help someone sell counterfeit goods or get someone blacklisted by Google.
The sensible answer is to get insurance and make sure you are contractually protected. Most general commercial policies will cover “negligence” claims. Torts like copyright and trademark may not, however, be covered, so you need to review your policy.
Professor Goldman talks about the lack of good contracting in the D’Agostino case. The SEO firm in Roger Cleveland could have protected themselves in that case as well with indemnity and other provisions.
Of course, indemnity provisions (example for mobile marketing) are only as good as the creditworthiness of the party agreeing to indemnify you. So, maybe my original recommendation, although pithy, was best.