Bill Hartzer

Do You Have the Legal Right to be Listed in Google?

Is Google required to list your business or your website in their search engine results? When I mention the word “list”, I am referring to whether they are indexing your website in their search results or whether they are listing your business in the Google Maps listings, for example. Being listed is different than ranking. Let me also explain that this post, and anything in this post (such as comments from others) in no way should be seen as legal advice, as I am not a lawyer and don’t claim to be one. You should always consult the advice of a qualified lawyer or solicitor about your unique situation. If you are a lawyer and would like to make a comment (and I can quote you), get in touch with me and we’ll talk about it. I may update this post. That said, though, let’s get back to the question: Is Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) or any search engine (or website) obligated to list you?

Is a Search Engine Obligated To List You?

The short answer here is no. Or, in my personal opinion, they are not obligated to list you in their search engine results (in their index), they’re certainly not obligated to rank you in any particular position. And, it is my understanding that it is their website, and their business. Google, for example, is not a public utility, as Janet Driscoll Miller pointed out to me today: “Google is not a public utility, so I expect no.”

Chris Silver Smith had this to say about this question:

“Generally speaking, there’s not a lot of basis for a legal claim. However, there could be exceptions, such as if one could make the argument that one’s free speech rights were being suppressed (although it’s still an uphill argument). One could also make the case that Google had largely made itself the gate to the internet, setting them at a higher responsibility for providing access than if they were merely exercising editorial rights.” He went on to tell me that “one would really need some more facts to assert than merely the fact of just not being in the index. One would need to also demonstrate that there’s no SEO deficiencies keeping the site from being indexed.”

I agree with Chris, as I personally don’t think there would be any basis for actually bringing a legal case against Google for not listing you in their search engine results. And, certainly, it’s my opinion that they don’t necessarily have to list your business in Google My Business. In fact, there have been some interesting examples lately. Google My Business has been suspending listings, and cracking down on businesses that violate their guidelines. I’ve seen it firsthand, and it’s taken weeks, sometimes months, to get a listing reinstated. In fact, Joe Youngblood recently tweeted to Google My Business about his frustration about getting a business listing reinstated in Google My Business. I don’t know the actual business he’s referring to, and I have not asked him. But he certainly looks frustrated:

I could see if a business had a Google My Business listing and it was removed or suspended–and then unsuspended and removed again it could be super frustrating. But that, however, begs the question: Does a business have a legal right to be listed in Google? Probably not. It’s their website, and their business: they can decide who gets listed and doesn’t get a listing. After all, it’s a free listing. The business is not paying to be listed.

There’s Always the Option to Pay

There is, in most cases, always an option to pay Google to show up in their search engine results pages. While a business may not be able to pay for a listing in Google My Business, they can certainly advertise as long as the business meets their guidelines. Certain businesses, such as firearms dealers or those offering payday loans may not be able to advertise on Google. But, a business may be able to run on ad on a competitor’s Google My Business listing. Just recently Google Local Listing showed a Toyota advertisement on a Dodge dealership GMB listing.

But in this case, when I refer to “having the legal right to be listed”, I’m referring to a free listing. Not something where you or a business has opened up a Google Ads account and paid to appear in the search engine results.

Kristine Schachinger had this to say:

“I think the only way they could have a legal claim as if they could prove that Google was delisting them for their own competitive advantage.”

That’s where I’m going here: has Google removed the Google My Business listing of a local business because Google thinks that the business is competing with them (Google)? Have they delisted a website or banned a certain domain name in the search engine results pages because they were competing with Google? That’s an interesting point:

A while back, 6 years ago, I wrote about Google indexing Bing’s search engine results in their index. After I pointed this out, and Google found about it via it being shared on social media, Google quickly took action and stopped indexing Bing’s results. That’s certainly a case where Google stopped indexing Bing–and one could argue that it was because of competition (Bing competing with Google).

One could argue that in certain cases Google has done some things to show certain websites less prominently in their search engine results pages. For example, look at flight search: Google introduced a way to search or flights in their search engine results, and that’s competing directly with other “flight search engines” where you can search for flights. But, Google has not specifically removed those websites or banned those domain names from their search engine results pages.

Do you have to legal right to be listed in Google’s search engine results pages or in Google’s local listings (Google Maps)? Probably not. I’d like to hear from a lawyer regarding this–but my gut feeling, and based on my experience is that Google’s under no obligation to list you or your business. They can do what they want.

Grant Simmons told me this when I asked if you have the legal right to be listed in Google: “No. Most of the time it’s in Google’s best interest to list all businesses for a comprehensive search result. It’s their core business to provide a complete list.. how they present it is their business model.”

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