These days, having a solid website is a big part of building any brand. But, if the building process of that website is left unattended, the site can actually be a surprising (and maybe sort of ridiculous) source of legal liability, too. We’re talking about metatags.
If you’re not familiar with metatags, they’re a portion of the HTML that sits unseen under the hood of your website. There are a few different kinds. One of them, the Meta Description Tag, is how you can tell Google what short summary to show under your link in the search result. That’s one every business surely wants to use, and it’s not the one that typically gets folks into trouble. That’s the Meta Keywords Tag. Back in the day, the Meta Keywords Tag was used to stuff all sorts of keywords onto your site, so that you’d rank higher in searches.
And, here’s where the law and the real world start to part ways. Way back in the late 1990s, major search engines stopped paying attention to this keyword field. You can guess why—people just loaded their sites with tons of keyword garbage, and it reduced the quality of search results. Now, Google and the other reputable search engines use their own blend of techniques to rank sites, giving rise to countless schools of thought about just how to optimize your website for rank (SEO, or Search Engine Optimization). Anyhow, Google straight up says, it doesn’t consider Meta Keywords.
But, here’s the weird thing. If you drop a competitor’s brewery or beer name into this Meta Keywords field, even though no typical consumer is ever going to see it and it’s not going to affect whether your site does or doesn’t appear in a search, you can technically still get dragged into court under theories of trademark and unfair competition law. Weird, we know. One case on this is Promatek Industries, Ltd. v. Equitrac Corp.
So this all might make you wonder, if the Meta Keywords Tag doesn’t help you on Google and can potentially get you in court, why bother? We think the same way, and savvy web professionals aren’t populating that field. The trouble is, when you’re first starting out as a brewery or small business, there are a lot of people willing to help out—and this includes hobbyist web designers who can put a really nice-looking site together, but who may not know the nitty gritty of the code. As a brewery owner, maybe you even pulled out that dusty HTML Code for Dummies book and built the first version of your website, and hats off to you for that. No matter how your site got put together, the reality is, when you don’t know otherwise, that “Keyword” field can seem awfully tempting to fill up with various terms and phrases—including ones that can pose issues down the road.
If you haven’t done a sweep of just what’s hiding under the hood of your website, it’s worth cruising through that content today. And, it’s also worth taking that Promatek case as a lesson heading forward: sometimes the law just isn’t what you’d expect it to be.