Mike Dillard Sues Website Owner Over Manipulative Search Engine Optimization Techniques

Mike Dillard, a “leading authority” on attraction marketing, internet marketing, and personal branding within the “network marketing” industry, is suing James Stein, owner of ArticlesProductions.com. Dillard claims that he and his companies have been defamed because Stein’s web site ranked higher in the search results for certain keywords in the Google search results.

Mike Dillard sued James Stein and received a temporary restraining order in the District Court of Travis County, Texas. The temporary restraining order was granted based on “Stein’s actions are causing immediate harm to the business reputation of Dillard and his businesses. Stein’s actions are interfering with existing and prospective contractual interests and causing confusion by misdirecting online traffic to Stein’s own competing web site.”

I have to say that this is the first time I have heard of someone being successful in getting a temporary restraining order for “misdirecting online traffic” to a competing web site. In fact, it appears that all of this is because of organic search engine listings in the Google search engine.

The following are statements taken directly from the affidavit:

“Stein quickly followed-up his discussion by identifying and targeting certain search-engine keywords to divert web traffic to his site, including:- “elevation group, the elevation, us elevation, best elevation, elevation media, elevation marketing” – to opportunistically palm off on my success…”

“By late on the night of December 14, 2010, Stein was expanding…by manipulating the ability of existing and prospective online customers to reach The Elevation Group website through a Google search by manipulative “search engine optimization” techniques…”

“Like most internet search engines, Google uses a large index of keywords and where those words can be found online. Google is unique, however, in how it ranks search results, which in turn determines the order in which Google displays search results. The following information was obtained concerning the amount of search results for each search term to demonstrate the degree to which Stein has endeavored to defame me by manipulating Google search results”

“Upon information and believe, Stein…has engaged in the use of “back-links” and content syndication…to willfully and maliciously manipulate search engine results so that actual and potential consumers attempting to locate The Elevation Group and/or The Elevation Group website are misdirected to Stein’s website…”

There are other issues involved here and other claims by Mr. Mike Dillard that James Stein has registered confusing domain names (cybersquatting), and posting disparaging comments about Mike Dillard and his business. There is also apparently a YouTube video that was ranking well in the organic search results that Mr. Mike Dillard wanted taken down, as well.

What I find interesting, though, is that a temporary restraining order was granted based on the fact that the defendent in the lawsuit was “manipulating the ability of existing and prospective online customers to reach The Elevation Group website through a Google search by manipulative “search engine optimization” techniques…”.

Since when are “manipulative search engine optimization techniques” a crime?

Granted, there are other issues and claims involved here in this case, but it appears that the primary issue at hand here is the fact that Mr. Stein was able to rank better in the organic search engine results on Google for certain keyword phrases.

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  1. Steven W. says

    One common threshold for a TRO is that the plaintiff be deemed likely to ultimately prevail on the merits of the case – that must have been quite a session with the judge (did the defendants even appear to argue? one presumes that ruling would garner their attention)

  2. Kurt says

    This will be an interesting one to hear out. I’m somewhat familiar with the keywords and personalities behind it, but honestly, I think the only enforcing authority here is with Google, not a court of law. There are means to dispute brand name infractions within Adwords for sure.

  3. GODOVERYOU says

    If not successfully defended, the precident set by the case could be extremely problematic. Google advised in the past to produce great quality content for others to link to. Produce and syndicate are very much connected, IE based on what is presented here the defendant has many options for defense.

    The obvious one is that in part he had been following Google’s statements to any webmaster looking to improve their position in search results. At that point who is to blame? The victim for not doing what Google formerly advised, or Google itself for advising the method claimed.

    Unless they can prove link spam, best of luck. Hopefully the court will educate itself before making a ruling but I doubt that, very much.

  4. Tony Wright says

    Actually, this is nothing new. There is plenty of case precedence on this, especially if the terms are trademarked. I actually served as an expert witness on a case like this. I would suspect that the defendant was purporting to be the plaintiff, thus causing consumer confusion. I can’t remember the name of the case I was on, but the plaintiff in that case was Manheim Auto Auctions. You can look it up if so inclined.