Google Asks Court to Dismiss SearchKing Lawsuit

Google has responded to SearchKing's lawsuit alleging that Google improperly reduced SearchKing's PageRank scores, asking the U.S. Dictrict Court to throw out the case.

Last August, SearchKing owner Bob Massa launched a "PR Ad Network" designed to broker paid link exchanges between web sites, both to help participants attract quality traffic and to potentially boost their PageRank scores, which are assigned to every page in Google's index.

PageRank is just one of more than 100 techniques Google uses to calculate the relevance of a web page for a particular query. But it's also just about the only public indicator Google makes available about its inner workings, and so PageRank has become the focus of obsessive attention by the webmaster community.

Google displays an approximation of a web page's PageRank (not the exact value) through a small graph on the Google Toolbar. Webmaster lore says that pages that get links from other pages with a PageRank of 8 or higher will see a concurrent boost in their own PageRank.

Massa's PR Ad Network sought to capitalize on that, even at the same time admitting that Google would likely penalize such a scheme as an attempt at manipulating Google search results. Sure enough, SearchKing's PageRank scores soon plummeted -- provoking Massa to file what many astute observers considered to be a Quixotic lawsuit against Google.

On December 30, Google formally responded to the lawsuit, and went a step further, seeking to have the suit thrown out of court altogether.

The two documents, despite being legal filings, are remarkably readable, and offer some intriguing insights into how Google works, and how it views its position as "gatekeeper" to the web. They're well worth reading, for both searcher and webmaster alike.

Yale's LawMeme weblog has also published extensive commentary on the suit and the legal maneuvering by the two companies. The commentary, written by James Grimmelmann, offers some fascinating observations:

"Google is telling the court that even if SearchKing proves everything it alleges, it still won't have shown that Google acted illegally."

"...there's no need to wait to resolve the basic question: not what Google did, but whether it was wrong.

"Google has one very powerful argument here. Google claims that PageRank is commercial speech, protected by the First Amendment."

Online law, especially as it relates to search engines, is relatively uncodified. This case is one that all SearchDay readers should pay close attention to.

Google's Response SearchKing's Complaint (PDF)
Google's response, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Google's Motion to Dismiss and Supporting Brief (PDF)
Google's motion to dismiss and supporting brief, also filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Google Replies to SearchKing Lawsuit
Comments on the Google/SearchKing controversy, from LawMeme, a collaboration between Yale University's Information Society Project, the Yale Law and Technology Society and the Yale Journal of Law and Technology.

Google Sued Over PageRank Decrease
Danny Sullivan examines the issues surrounding the Search King/Google lawsuit.

Search Engine Forums Spotlight

Google responds to SearchKing complaint
Webmaster World Forum
"LawMeme has published the Google response to the SearchKing complaint. The bottom line is that Google says to the effect, that they did it to protect the integrity of the algo, and moreover it was there first amendment right to do it."

Title Tags: A badly written title will sink your site
Webmaster World Forum
"How to sabotage your web site without even knowing it."

Outbound links?
Webmaster World Forum
"If Google starts measuring out-going links, can we tap off (into?) that knowledge? If yes, how?"

Can a one man band challenge the "Google"
Webmaster World Forum
"Is it possible for a project like Gigablast to sneak up on Google..."

Dynamic urls, ?'s, Google and htaccess
ihelpyou Forums
"The answer to your question lies in robots.txt!"

Google gets sinister!
Cre8asite Forums
"I don't think we need to go around looking for things for which there is no evidence that they exist at all. I do think we need to look closely at what does happen though, e.g. SearchKing, to try to determine what's right and wrong."

Search Engine Forums Spotlight courtesy Search Engine Guide.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.