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Google faces search ranking suit

KinderStart.com, a portal and search engine about caring for kids, filed suit against Google on Friday, alleging that the internet giant had damaged its business by dropping the KinderStart site from its search rankings, according to reports.20 Mar 2006

Advert: Free OUT-LAW breakfast seminars, UK-wide: open source software; and data retentionThe suit, filed in a California District Court, seeks damages and an explanation as to how Google ranks websites – confidential information that pundits might value alongside the secret recipe for Coca Cola.

KinderStart alleges that it has suffered a 70% drop in visitors to its website since Google downgraded the firm without warning in March last year. The firm has seen its revenue fall by 80%, according to Reuters.

It argues that Google is breaching KinderStart’s right to free speech by blocking its search engine results. It also alleges that Google has provided no explanation for the removal, making it more difficult for it and any other banished site to make the adjustments that will persuade Google to re-include it in the index.

Google has made no comment on the suit so far.

Google says on its website that its order of results is automatically determined by more than 100 factors, including its PageRank algorithm. PageRank is regarded as the single most important factor. It is a numeric value from 0–10 that represents how important a page is on the web. Google's approach is that when one page links to another it is effectively casting a vote for that other page. The more votes cast for a page, the more important the page must be and the higher its PageRank. But further details of the factors that rank results are largely unknown.

Google has long had a practice of penalising websites that seek to manipulate its systems to obtain better search rankings. It sets out a list of do’s and don’ts on its Webmaster Guidelines and warns that it may remove websites from the Google index if they are found to be carrying out some of the illicit practices listed.

In February, Google removed BMW’s German website from its search rankings after the car maker was found to have used ‘doorway pages’, a search engine optimisation (SEO) technique that can be used to distort rankings. That site has been returned to the rankings.