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Google Bombing

It is a way of influencing the rank of a page by artificially increasing the number of linking to it and the anchor texts used for that.

“Google bombs” are collective efforts to link to a site by a key phrase and artificially elevate a Web site in the Google search results for that search phrase. Google bombs rely heavily on the influence of PageRank. Some Google bombs are politically motivated while others are done as pranks, and some may have been motivated by ego or self-promotion.

Google moved to curb Google bombs by tweaking its formula for ranking pages by relevancy. The changes limited the ability of relatively small groups to create Google bombs, but it did not end it entirely.

Google Bombing

A black hat SEO practitioner will manipulate Google’s algorithm by “helping” one-page rank for an entirely different keyword. This happens because it is the same anchor text used for the pages that link to that page in particular.

One of the most discussed examples of Google bombing was the query “completely wrong” for Mitt Romney. If you search images for “completely wrong”, Google will show you a picture with Mitt Romney.

The terms Google bombing and Google washing refer to the practice of causing a website to rank highly in web search engine results for irrelevant, unrelated or off-topic search terms by linking heavily.  In contrast, search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving the search engine listings of web pages for relevant search terms.

Google-bombing is done for either business, political, or comedic purposes (or some combination thereof).  Google’s search-rank algorithm ranks pages higher for a particular search phrase if enough other pages linked to it use similar anchor text.

By January 2007, however, Google had tweaked its search algorithm to counter popular Google bombs such as “miserable failure” leading to George W. Bush and Michael Moore; now, search results list pages about the Google bomb itself.  Since no later than 21 June 2015, the first result in a Google search for “miserable failure” is the Wikipedia article defining Google bomb.  Used both as a verb and a noun, “Google bombing” was introduced to the New Oxford American Dictionary in May 2005.

Google bombing is related to spamdexing, the practice of deliberately modifying HTML to increase the chance of a website being placed close to the beginning of search engine results, or to influence the category to which the page is assigned in a misleading or dishonest manner.

By studying what types of ranking manipulations a search engine is using, a company can provoke a search engine into lowering the ranking of a competitor’s website. This practice, known as Google bowling, is often done by purchasing Google bombing services (or other SEO techniques) not for one’s own website, but rather for that of a competitor.

The attacker provokes the search company into punishing the “offending” competitor by displaying their page further down in the search results.

For victims of Google bowling, it may be difficult to appeal the ranking decrease because Google avoids explaining penalties, preferring not to “educate” real offenders. If the situation is clear-cut, however, Google could lift the penalty after submitting a request for reconsideration. Furthermore, after the Google Penguin update, Google search rankings now take Google bowling into account and very rarely will a website be penalized due to low-quality “farm” backlinks.

Google bombing refers to black-hat SEO practices aimed at increasing a webpage’s rank for a specific Google search by exploiting its algorithm. Google bombing generally involves artificially inflating the number of pages that link to a page and the words used in the link’s anchor text.

Google’s search-ranking algorithm ranks pages higher for particular search phrases if enough other pages linked to it using similar anchor text (linking text such as “miserable failure”). By January 2007 Google had made changes to search results to counter popular Google bombs, such as “miserable failure”, which now lists pages about the Google bomb itself.

Why Did This Work?

Although Google’s exact algorithms for ranking search results are a mystery, we do know that PageRank plays a roll. Google’s search engine tends to think that the words used in the link to a particular source reflect some of the content of the source. If many people link to an article using a particular phrase, such as “using Google effectively,” Google will assume that “using Google effectively” is related to the content of the page, even if that particular phrase isn’t used within the page itself.

The commercial use of google bombing

Some website operators have adapted Google bombing techniques to do “spamdexing”. This includes, among other techniques, posting of links to a site in an Internet forum along with phrases the promoter hopes to associate with the site (see spam in blogs).

Unlike conventional message board spam, the object is not to attract readers to the site directly, but to increase the site’s ranking under those search terms. Promoters using this technique frequently target forums with low reader traffic, in hopes that it will fly under the moderators’ radar.

Wikis in particular are often the target of this kind of page rank vandalism, as all of the pages are freely editable. This practice was also called “money bombing” by John Hiler circa 2004.

Another technique is for the owner of an Internet domain name to set up the domain’s DNS entry so that all subdomains are directed to the same server. The operator then sets up the server so that page requests generate a page full of desired Google search terms, each linking to a subdomain of the same site, with the same title as the subdomain in the requested URL.

Frequently the subdomain matches the linked phrase, with spaces replaced by underscores or hyphens. Since Google treats subdomains as distinct sites, the effect of many subdomains linking to each other is a boost to the PageRank of those subdomains and of any other site they link to.

On February 2, 2007, many users noticed changes in the Google algorithm. These changes largely affected (among other things) Google bombs: as of February 15, 2007, only roughly 10% of the Google bombs still worked. This change was largely due to Google refactoring its valuation of PageRank.

Famous Google Bombs

You can find a list of Google Bombs past and present at Google Blogoscoped.

Some of the better-known bombs include:

  • The first Google bomb was launched as a joke by Adam Mathes. He linked the Web site of his friend Andy Pressman to the phrase “talentless hack.”
  • “McDonald’s” was linked to the film Supersize Me, which was highly critical of the McDonald’s restaurant chain.
  • “Jew” was linked to the Wikipedia entry on Judaism. This was done to counter the original search results, which ranked an anti-semitic Web site as the top result. Google also placed a link to a statement at the top of the search results page to explain the results.
  • Comedian Stephen Colbert’s Web site, Colbert Nation was Google bombed by fans with the phrases “giant brass balls” and “greatest living American.”
  • After angering columnist Dan Savage with his anti-homosexual remarks in 2003, Savage and the fans of his “Savage Love” column created a Google bomb that linked politician Rick Santorum’s last name to a definition for a lewd phrase. As of 2018 the Google bomb remains intact and is outranking Rick Santorum’s official page. Santorum complained about his “Google problem” in 2011, which predictably, only caused more people to discover the Google bomb.

Many of these Google bombs fade with time, as the original links move off of the first page of the blogs that linked them, or the webmasters that created them get bored with the joke. Some, like Rick Santorum’s Google bomb, end up staying around for years.

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