SEO or search engine optimization, not to be confused with SEM or search engine marketing, has been in the digitally savvy PR person’s toolbox from the earliest days of Google dominance. I mean who hasn’t heard of meta tagging and link relevancy?

The advent of these two acronyms has spawned an entire industry straddling PR, advertising, DM and web design. What’s less familiar to rank and file PR practitioners are Google’s “terms of service” (TOS), and the consequences for running afoul of them.

Yesterday we learned that the maker of your 3, 5 and 7 Series didn’t exactly play by the SEO rules. It embedded the German word for “used cars” 42 times on its home page to elevate its unpaid SE ranking, and thus drive BMW buyer traffic to its site. As a result, the omnipotent rulemaker doled out the punishment: the German automaker was banished to the results rankings basement, a fate that far exceeds fender-bender status.

Now, I wonder which company will have its reputation more adversely de-optimized: Google’s, for its heavy-handedness, or BMW’s, for its digital faux pas?