Google Bomb

google bomb

The terms Google bomb and Googlewashing refer to practices, such as creating large numbers of links, that cause a web page to have a high ranking for searches on unrelated or off topic keyword phrases, often for comical or satirical purposes. In contrast, search engine optimization is the practice of improving the search engine listings of web pages for relevant search terms.

Google bombs date back as far as 1999, when a search for ‘more evil than Satan himself’ resulted in the Microsoft homepage as the top result. Some of the most famous Google bombs are also expressions of political opinions (e.g. ‘liar’ leading to Tony Blair or ‘miserable failure’ leading to the White House’s biography of George W. Bush).

It is done for either business, political, or comedic purposes (or a combination of the latter two). Google’s search-rank algorithm ranks pages higher for a particular search phrase if enough other pages linked to it using similar anchor text (linking text such as ‘miserable failure’). However, by 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. Google bombing is closely related to ‘spamdexing,’ the practice of deliberately modifying HTML pages 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.

In 2000 the first Google bomb with a verifiable creator was created by ‘Hugedisk Men’s Magazine,’ a now-defunct online humor magazine, when it linked the text ‘dumb motherfucker’ to a site selling George W. Bush-related merchandise. Hugedisk had also unsuccessfully attempted to Google bomb an equally derogatory term to bring up an Al Gore-related site. After a fair amount of publicity the George W. Bush-related merchandise site retained lawyers and sent a cease and desist letter to Hugedisk, thereby ending the Google bomb.

Adam Mathes is credited with coining the term ‘Google bombing’ when he mentioned it in an article that appeared in 2001 in the online magazine uber.nu. In the article Mathes details his connection of the search term ‘talentless hack’ to the website of his friend Andy Pressman by recruiting fellow webloggers to link to his friend’s page with the desired term. By studying what types of ranking manipulations a search engine is punishing, 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 the website of the 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. However if the situation is clear-cut, Google could lift the penalty after submitting a request for reconsideration.

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