As a lawyer specializing in IT law, copyright law and competition law, I face the challenges that arise at the interface between technology and law on a daily basis. In my consulting work for clients in the SEO sector, I experience how important it is to have a deep understanding of the dynamics of the internet and the legal framework. Today I would like to share my thoughts and experiences on a topic that is of central importance to many of my clients: the legally compliant design of SEO measures.
The legal dimension of SEO
A recent ruling by the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart (decision of 11.08.2023, ref.: 2 W 30/23) has once again drawn attention to the legal aspects of SEO. In this case, a website operator was held liable for misleading metadata that led to incorrect search results. This ruling is a clear example of how quickly you can get into legal trouble if you don’t carefully consider the implications of your SEO strategy.
Specifically, this case concerned a website that used the term “Systemic Coach + Psychotherapist (HeilprG)” in its metadata. However, this information was abbreviated and misleadingly presented as “systematic coach + psychotherapist” in the Google search results. The court found that this representation was misleading and therefore anti-competitive, as it did not correspond to the actual qualifications of the operator.
The Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart affirmed the responsibility of the website operator for the misleading presentation in the search results. It was argued that the defendant had adequately and causally contributed to the creation of the misleading search engine entry through the selection of its metadata. The court emphasized that website operators have a responsibility for how their content is displayed in search engines and that they must reckon with the possible consequences of their SEO decisions.
This ruling highlights the need for website operators to consider their SEO strategies not only in terms of visibility and marketing, but also the legal implications. It shows that a careful and legally secure design of metadata and other SEO-relevant content is essential in order to avoid legal risks.
For my clients in the field of IT law, especially those involved in online marketing and SEO, this ruling is an important reminder of how important it is to consider both the technical and legal aspects when optimizing their websites.
SEO strategies and their legal pitfalls
In my practice, I often see that optimization for search engines and compliance with legal requirements are in conflict. The design of metadata, the selection of keywords and the creation of content must not only be aimed at improving visibility in search engines, but must also be legally compliant. A regular legal review of the website, in particular of the metadata, is therefore essential.
A look at another relevant judgment
In addition to the judgment of the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart, I would like to point out another landmark judgment that deals with misleading reviews in online marketing. In this case, which was heard by the Munich Regional Court (judgment of 12.03.2022, Ref.: 33 O 15892/21), the focus was on the practice of publishing customer reviews on a commercial website. The court ruled that the website operator can be held liable for fake or misleading reviews published on its platform.
In the specific case, the operator of an online platform had published positive reviews that did not originate from real customers. This practice was classified as misleading and anti-competitive as it deceived potential customers about the quality of the offer. The court made it clear that website operators have a duty of care to check the authenticity of reviews published on their site and to ensure that these reviews reflect the actual experiences of customers.
Conclusion: The balance between effectiveness and legal certainty
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that developing an effective and at the same time legally compliant online strategy is one of the biggest challenges for website operators and SEO experts. In my role as a lawyer and advisor, it is my aim to point out these important aspects to my clients and to support them in designing such a strategy. Only through such a balanced approach can we ensure that our online activities are not only successful, but also legally secure.