Keyword Chicanery

By Deane Barker on April 4, 2005

Does anyone have any current data or opinion on the legality of using a competitor’s name (both business and personal name) in the keywords META tag of a site?

We have a client whose competitor has listed the client’s business name and the client’s personal name in their keywords in a sleazy attempt to capture search traffic (it’s a professional services business where as many people know the business owner’s name as know the company name). It’s not working, but it just pisses me off on principle.

I know this isn’t the first time this has happened, but if someone can enlighten me on where we stand legally, I’d appreciate it. I’m guessing the answer is a big “you’re screwed,” but I figured I’d check.



  1. Your client is protected by tort law, which includes things like misappropriation of identity, false light (your client is damaged by association with this site), and the usual defamation torts. There are also business torts (like interference with prospective economic advantage) and probably the newer identity theft laws available as well.

  2. uh, since march of last year, google has allowed anyone to buy trademarked keywords for adsense/adwords or search results.

    they are getting sued like crazy for this, but it’s still their policy to allow it.

  3. This doesn’t help on the legality front, but one bit of good news you can share with your client is that none of the major search engines pay any positive attention to the meta keywords.

    There is some speculation that a site might get penalized for “over-optimization” if they stuff too many keywords in there, but none of the bigger search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) will send the site any traffic to speak of based on those keywords. The last search engine of any signficance that did was AltaVista.

    Another bit of good news is that if this kind of thing is representative of the state of the competition’s search engine optimization, a bit of modern SEO should let your client’s site completely bury the other one in the results…

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