Earlier this year, CMA Digital conducted a unique marketing campaign that targeted specific people with the intention of driving them to our agency’s website, in an innovative and engaging way.

We sent chocolate bars to a select set of individuals, prompting them to do a Google search in order to find our website. As our website ranked 1st in the organics for the term we asked them to search for, we were found, and our campaign was a huge success, resulting in CMA Digital getting exposure across other sites including Search Engine Land.

Whilst planning and putting together this campaign, we came to the realisation that this could all go horribly wrong and be a huge waste of budget for one very simple reason; lack of control. Because our concept relied heavily on ensuring our website ranked 1st in the organics, we realised that not only were we at the mercy of the search engines, but we were also open to other organic competitors ranking above us and stealing the show.

Do Search Engines Have Too Big a Say On IP?

We therefore started to think about the amount of control search engines have over businesses and website owners looking to rank organically for a desired objective. We specifically asked ourselves if search engines have too much control over intellectual property that should be controlled by entities other than the search engines (ie businesses or website owners).

The search engines choose who ranks where and have the final say as to who ranks highest. Also, with a certain degree of skill, it is possible for anyone to one site to appear above another. The factors that influence search engine rankings make it far too easy to infringe intellectual property rights, and the search engines implicitly encourage this behaviour by not applying ethics of a lawful nature to their algorithms. On this basis, we started to question whether search engine algorithms should be governed by law in order to protect intellectual property with organic results.

Following a similar approach as to paid search, exposure for particular keywords or phrases in particular positions can be controlled, through both trade marking of terms and with bid management. This ability to achieve protection within the context of search engine exposure was made clear in a landmark legal case involving M&S; and Interflora, but these rules do not apply to the organics.

At The Mercy of Organic Search?

Within the organics, it is the search engines that ultimately dictate which website ranks highest and achieves maximum value, leaving businesses and website owners at their mercy. It now makes us think whether Google should do more to uphold intellectual property rights? Google is a company, and as such they are there to make money, not to be judge and jury. However, as a company in their position they have a responsibility to do their best to ensure laws are being upheld within their system, a responsibility that has been stressed by international courts.

Specifically, it seems that there is a clear case for Google and other search engines to fine tune their algorithm to ensure that original rights holders get the attribution they deserve. They may even need to consider going as far as giving penalties to those who are attempting to manipulate search ranks in a way that removes credit from those who rightfully deserve it.

To most of us, this may seem like an impossible task for the company to achieve, but the big brains at Google have worked their algorithm to achieve more complex results. When you consider the vast numbers of people who use these engines and the trust they put in them, the power that search giants hold becomes apparent. Intellectual property rights should be something that future algorithm updates seek to resolve, to help improve the quality of their results and to prevent our copyright being at the mercy of Google.