SEO Expert Witness

By: Sameer Somal |  September 9, 2023

The mechanism of SEO works by using organic search results on various search engines to attract traffic to a particular website. It is natural that disputes arise in every field and an SEO expert witness comes into play in the legal aspect of such disputes.

Their main role is to use their vast knowledge and expertise to help a judge or jury form an opinion, in a state or federal court, about issues concerning SEO. There are a plethora of aspects that an SEO expert witness analyzes. All of which have been explained thoroughly in the article below.

What is an SEO Expert Witness?

A person is rendered an expert on the basis of experience, training, knowledge, or skill set. A search engine optimization expert witness is an objective person who conducts a comprehensive analysis and interpretation with respect to the process of search engine optimization, to form a critical opinion on it. They have both technical proficiency and the ability to present that knowledge in a legal environment.

In a legal dispute, expert witnesses come into play when the subject is outside the court’s purview. In such cases, the judiciary seeks counsel from a person who is an “expert” in that field.

Working SEO Expert Witnesses Source: Freepik

What is the Role of an SEO Expert Witness?

Companies and businesses all around the world hire SEO companies to enhance their online presence. Sometimes the hired company underperforms its task or resorts to unethical SEO practices resulting in the business being penalized. Therefore, the aggrieved party calls upon the services of a search engine expert witness.

The expert assists the lawyer in investigating issues related to SEO, to deduce if SEO best practices were followed and what was the outcome. Then, they prepare a holistic report that lists all the factors considered. Some responsibilities of an SEO expert witness have been enlisted below:

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1. On-page SEO Audit

On-page SEO audit is used to optimize all the pages of a website and enable them to achieve more organic keyword searches related to the topic of the page. This helps improve the SEO health of websites and understand the issues hindering the online visibility of the business. This audit includes internal linking, image optimization, title tag, and meta tag optimization.

2. Off-page SEO Audit

Off-page SEO audits include actions taken from outside the website to enhance its rankings on search engines. For instance, backlinking, podcasts, mentioning websites on other platforms, reviews, social media, link building, etc.

3. Backlinking Assessment

Backlinking assessment measures when a website stands against its competitors who are already ranking well for target keywords. Backlinking assessment should be done periodically and when something wrong is observed.

4. SEO Penalty Assessment

Sometimes, as a penalty, a website’s rankings are lowered considerably or even removed entirely from the search engine results page. A penalty assessment helps learn about the factors that caused the penalty, lay out actionable task lists, and have a repair roadmap to correct the problems.

5. Discuss and Implement Recovery Strategies

Whenever a penalty is imposed, an audit helps recognize the reasons and allows the development of a recovery plan. Checking search engine ranking, reviewing web analytics, and examining backlinks are essential elements of recovery strategies.

6. Identify and Fix Negative SEO Practices

Negative SEO practices include website hacking, making loads of spam links to competitor’s websites, fake social profiles to destroy online reputation, and removing the best backlinks that the competitor’s website has. This can be prevented by keeping track of one’s backlink profile and protecting the best backlinks.

7. Provide Expert Testimony on SEO Major Issues

Some people, by virtue of their work and knowledge have gained vast experience in fields like defamation, cyber-security, computers, intellectual property, etc. They play the role of SEO expert witnesses and provide their unbiased opinion on major issues concerning SEO to assist parties in their litigation and help the court in facilitating a verdict.

8. Perform a Thorough Analysis of Online Defamation

Online defamation is the publication of a false implicating statement targeted at a person or an organization on the internet with an aim to deteriorate their reputation. Online defamation can be dealt with by reporting the publisher/user to the host website or contacting the publisher directly.

Internet DefamationSource: Freepik

What are the Qualities of an SEO Expert Witness?

An SEO expert witness should have:

  • Up-to-date knowledge about SEO
  • Clarity in putting their opinion forward
  • Conceptual understanding of legal processes
  • The quality to present technical terms in simple language
  • Excellent analytical skills which enable them to scrutinize whether SEO best practices have been followed or not

1. Relevant Experience of SEO

An expert witness should be qualified on the subject of their testimony. They must have special education, practical experience, and/or training on the topic of the case.

For a person to be considered a search engine expert witness, they must have proper education, specialized hands-on experience, and credentials pertaining to previous cases. Without a doubt, previous testimonies are substantial in establishing credibility as an expert witness.

2. Understanding of the Major SEO Tools

SEO tools are the assets of an SEO expert that make their work efficient and seamless. Below you will find a list of tools that every SEO expert witness should know:

  • Moz Pro: An array of SEO tools
  • Ahrefs: Offers strong backlinking
  • Google Analytics: Helps understand how traffic affects a site and its sources
  • Google search console: Helps website owners analyze and maintain their website’s ranking on Google search results page
  • SEMrush: Offers site auditing, competitor analysis, and keyword search
  • SpyFu: Allows competitor analysis

3. Technical Skills

Skills required by an SEO expert witness are:

  • Technical SEO expertise: Includes URL structure, site speed optimization, and canonicalization
  • In-depth keyword research
  • Audit and website analysis
  • Backlink analysis
  • Penalty recognition and recovery
  • Data interpretation and analytics

4. Analytical Skills

Skills to be applied by an SEO expert witness are:

  • Analyzing aspects of a website such as crawlability, indexability, and site speed
  • Conversion analysis
  • User experience analysis
  • Link profile evaluation
  • The ability to predict possible results of an SEO strategy

5. Critical Thinking

The quality of being able to critically think and analyze all the possible scenarios, consider possible outcomes of various SEO strategies, and be able to give an experienced opinion.

6. Active Communication Skills

This includes the ability to present technical and complicated ideas in a simple, clear manner. Since an SEO expert witness testifies in court, the manner in which they convey their analysis and deductions should be crisp.

7. Marketing Skills

SEO expert witness should possess the following skills:

  • Content Strategy: Target keywords and provide engaging content for users
  • On-page and Off-page optimization
  • Local and technical SEO
  • Data analysis using tools like Google Analytics
  • Social media integration
  • Communication skills
  • Adaptability to new developments in the SEO field

8. A Unique Perspective

Every legal proceeding is distinctive because of the unique facts and circumstances, the nature of the dispute, the legal issues involved, and the harm inflicted on the aggrieved. Therefore, the SEO expert witness should have the ability to apply their knowledge and provide a fresh perspective for each case.

SEO experts meetingSource: Freepik

What does an SEO Expert Witness Need to Know?

If someone is an expert, it is expected of them to know both the ethical and unethical practices in their field. Only then, they will be able to identify the root causes of the dispute. Some essential knowledge criteria are:

  • Defamation
  • Intellectual Property
  • Trademark Infringement
  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Pay-per-Click

Key knowledge points are:

1. The Internet

An in-depth understanding of the particular aspects of the Internet that are relevant to legal cases is required. Knowledge about aspects like the following certainly assists:

  • Search engine ranking and algorithms
  • User experience
  • Link building
  • Website analysis
  • Technical SEO
  • Data privacy
  • Newest industry trends

2. Search Engine Results

A deep understanding of search engine results covers the following:

  • Paid advertising
  • SERP layout and components
  • Click-through rates
  • Penalties and manual action
  • Changes in algorithm
  • Ranking factors
  • Data analytics
  • Indexing and crawlability
  • Competitor analysis

3. Lawsuits Related to PPC

PPC stands for pay-per-click services which is a part of search engine marketing. Lawsuits pertaining to PPC may arise from different disputes such as the following: 

  • Unfair competition
  • Click fraud
  • False advertising
  • Trademark infringement
  • Disputes over ad campaigns

4. Internet Defamation

The publishing of false and detrimental statements about businesses, organizations, or individuals that result in damage to their reputation is called online defamation. Such a statement can be published on social media, blogs, in the form of reviews, etc.

What are the SEO Expert Witness Services?

Whenever a legal dispute is brought before a court of law, the court uses the evidence presented to arrive at a fair decision. Sometimes, the origin of the dispute lies in technical matters like SEO, intellectual property, online defamation, etc. which are beyond the understanding of the judiciary.

The party bringing technical evidence in their favor seeks expert witness services. Here, the role of an expert witness is to investigate the intricacies of the evidence and present it simply in front of the court to help reach a fair verdict.

1. Testify on SEO Manipulation Tactics

Manipulation tactics are the ones that make the user experience worse and add nothing of value to it. It includes: 

  • Building artificial link networks
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Creating a lot of poor-quality pages

2. Assist with Identifying Spammy Backlinks

Spammy backlinks are irrelevant or poor-quality inbound links that point to a website. These links are created to manipulate search engine results and provide poor value to the users. A small number of such links may not incur a penalty, but many of them could provoke penalties from search engines. 

3. Address Website Penalties for Deceptive Practices

Sometimes when an SEO firm is hired by a company and it violates SEO best practices, the search engines may impose penalties on the company’s website and tank its rankings. The SEO expert helps quickly identify these penalties by:

  • Conducting an audit
  • Removing deceptive content
  • Improving on-page SEO
  • Building high-quality backlinks

4. Evaluate Fake Reviews and Reputation Management

Fake reviews are untrue reviews that criticize a product or service without actual user experience. It is important to approach them in a transparent and ethical manner. SEO experts cure them by: 

  • Encouraging genuine reviews
  • Monitoring mentions
  • Responding to reviews positively
  • Addressing negative content

5. Analyze Doorway Pages and Content Scraping

Doorway pages are web pages created to rank high on search engine results pages for particular phrases or keywords. Content scraping is used to speedily populate a website with plagiarized unoriginal content.

6. Assess Private Blog Networks for Link Building

Private blog networks are website networks that are created solely for the purpose of manipulating search engine results by building backlinks. It is a tool considered as a black or gray hat SEO.

7. Examine Automated Content Generation Tools

Automated content creation is the process in which AI writing tools are used to create content, fully or partially. Experts have an eye on identifying the content created using such tools.

8. Deceptive Meta Tag Manipulation

Meta data or meta tags are bits of condensed information that are put in a web page’s HTML code to give additional information about the web page content. Deceptive meta-tag manipulation is the process of using those tags to manipulate user behavior or search engine rankings.

9. Identify Fake Social Media Profiles and Engagement

Online profiles and identities in the virtual world have exponentially grown. Such growth is catalyzed by interacting with other brands and people on social media. Sometimes, scammers create fake profiles and deal in bad faith, this consequently leads to huge losses for major companies. SEO expert witnesses check such fake profiles by tracking their account history, followers, and online presence.

10. Provide Expertise on Keyword Advertising Trademark Infringement

The infringement occurs when search engine companies sell phrases and words that are trademarked to the trademark owner’s competitors. It confuses customers because when they search for keywords under trademark, search results show those words on websites unrelated to the real brand or product. An expert in the field of Intellectual property can help point out such infringements.

11. Evaluate the Impact of Misreported Video Metrics

Misreported video metrics are the inaccurate reporting or manipulated data of video performance on platforms such as Vevo or YouTube. It is an unethical practice in which misleading metrics like views, watch time, and engagement are used to deceive stakeholders and create a false image of good content.

12. Investigate Online Directory Traffic Fraud

The number of visitors accessing a website is called web traffic. Fake web traffic is when bots or software generate web traffic. Experts prevent this by connecting the site to Google webmaster tools and monitoring site analytics regularly.

13. Assist in Click Fraud and Business Misconduct Cases

When one clicks on a PPC ad without the intention of buying the service/product, this act exhausts the rival’s ad spend and prevents the acquisition of new customers leading to losses. SEO expert witnesses conduct audits and point such frauds out.

What to Look for When Hiring an SEO Expert Witness?

When stuck in the middle of a legal quandary, hiring an expert witness is not enough. The search engine optimization expert witness must be an all-rounder with a set of the below-mentioned skills:

  • Impartiality: They shouldn’t have any personal interest in the case and its outcome
  • Relevant Experience and Up-to-Date Knowledge: Having work experience across relevant industries, strategies, websites, and the knowledge about the latest SEO trends 
  • Reputation and Credentials: Their certifications, professional affiliations, and credentials should be checked. Additional testimonies are a cherry on top
  • Court Experience: It makes them resistant to the cross-examination strategies of the adverse party
  • Communication and Analytical Skills: The ability to put forward complex ideas in a clear manner and having strong assessment skills like analyzing websites’ data and search engine performance
  • Ability to Comprehend Legal Context: The ability to understand how their expertise blends with the legal issue

SEO Expert Witness: Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much does it cost for SEO expert witness services in the US?

As per online expert witness directories, the average fees charged by experts are as follows:

  • Mostly a retainer which costs between $1000-2000
  • Hourly fee for file review and report preparation is $150-$300
  • Median testimony fee is $200-$400
  • Experts who testify for defendants usually require more fees than the ones who testify for the defendant side

2. Who provides the best SEO expert witness services in the US?

SEO expert witness services is a very specific field that has a limited number of service providers. Blue Ocean Global Technology is a firm that offers SEO expert witness services. Sameer Somal, the CEO, has a stellar record of being an expert witness and has testified in court for many businesses in fields like Internet defamation, SEO, digital marketing, etc.

3. What are the different types of SEO expert witness cases?

  • Off-page SEO audits
  • On-page SEO audits
  • Toxic/Harmful backlinking practices
  • SEO recovery strategy
  • Expert witness testimony

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Published by Sameer Somal

Sameer Somal is the CEO of Blue Ocean Global Technology. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on digital transformation, online reputation management, search engine optimization, relationship capital and ethics. Fundamental to his work at Blue Ocean Global Technology, Sameer leads collaboration with an exclusive group of PR, Law and Management Consulting agency partners. He helps clients build and transform their digital presence. Sameer is a published writer and Internet Defamation subject matter expert witness. In collaboration with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation, he authors continuing legal education (CLE) programs and is a member of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Education Advisory Council. Sameer serves on the board of the CFA Institute Seminar for Global Investors, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Girl Power Talk. He is an active member of the Society of International Business Fellows (SIBF).

Sameer Somal
Sameer Somal, CFA, CFP®, CAIA

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