Too much of a good thing? Apparently that now applies to search engine optimization (SEO) if you’re in France. One French bar just couldn’t take any more rotten reviews, so the owners decided not to tackle the service or go after the food, but instead target a particularly well-known foodie blogger who happened to have killer SEO skills. The food blogger had the highest ranked (bad) review for the restaurant and she found herself caught up—and guilty!—of being too easy to find on Google.
The French judge ruled in favor of the restaurant, demanding that the blogger change the title of the scathing review. Worse, she was ordered to pay almost $3,500 in damages and fines simply for doing her job and being very good at it. According to the blogger, she was charged with “being highly ranked.” However, the restaurant says the prominence of her blog was ruining their business and that her review was unfair.
It’s a good thing SEO wasn’t around when the Broadway show Cats made its debut.
Care to Hear the Specials?
While the legality of this decision is up for debate, and can be tricky for American SEO pros considering it took place in Europe, there’s a bigger issue at hand: Did Il Giardino restaurant’s suing of the blogger really do them any good? According to the original post written by Caroline Doudet, it took her asking three different waitpersons just to get one round of drinks—this was well before she even got around to how terrible (supposedly) the food and service overall was.
SEO professionals claim that the publicity from the lawsuit is doing more harm than Doudet’s opinion ever did. Since the lawsuit was filed, the restaurants reputation has hit rock bottom. That likely wouldn’t have happened (at least not as quickly) had the mud slinging from the restaurant’s side not begun. Sometimes bad reviews happen, and it would be strange if an established company with a decent amount of online reviews boasted nothing but glowing ratings.
The Doudet Impact
At the time of the original review, Doudet had about 3,000 people following her blog. Then she published “The Place to Avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino.” According to experts, such a lawsuit wouldn’t happen in the US since Doudet would be well within her First Amendment rights. There’s a chance for a defamation claim, but for those who read the entire review, there are much more severe bad reviews posted every day in the US.
It seems that Doudet was really only “guilty” of having the right SEO skills to rank high on Google. Doudet told US reporter Hillary Dixler that, “I regret not having left the restaurant from the beginning and therefore never having written the article. That would have been easier, (but) I stand by the review.” Doudet isn’t alone as many French writers have been found guilty in defamation claims.
However, if you’re asking a writer not to write—particularly a writer with SEO chops (likely finer than the cuts from Il Giardino), what’s the point of criticism? Critics and food bloggers don’t abide by the “If you don’t have something nice to say…” mantra, and taking criticisms is something that should be expected from establishments.