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An example of Google bombing in 2006 that caused the search query "miserable failure" to be associated with George W. Bush and Michael Moore.
An example of Google bombing in 2006 that caused the search query "miserable failure" to be associated with George W. Bush and Michael Moore.

The terms Google bombing and Googlewashing 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).[1] 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.[2] Since no later than 21 June 2015, the first result in a Google search for "miserable failure" is this article.[3] Used both as a verb and a noun, "Google bombing" was introduced to the New Oxford American Dictionary in May 2005.[4]

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.[5]

The term Googlewashing was coined by Andrew Orlowski in 2003 to describe the use of media manipulation to change the perception of a term, or push out competition from search engine results pages (SERPs).[6][7]

History

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.[8][9]

In September 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.[10] 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.[11]

Adam Mathes is credited with coining the term "Google bombing" when he mentioned it in an April 6, 2001 article 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.[12] Some experts forecast that the practice of Google Bombing is over, as changes to Google's algorithm over the years have minimised the effect of the technique.

Uses as tactical media

The Google Bomb has been used for tactical media as a way of performing a "hit-and-run" media attack on popular topics. Such attacks include Anthony Cox's attack in 2003. He created a parody of the "404 – page not found" browser error message in response to the war in Iraq. The page looked like the error page but was titled "These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed". This website could be found as one of the top hits on Google after the start of the war in Iraq.[13] Also, in an attempt to detract attention from the far-right group English Defence League (EDL), a parody group has been made known as "English Disco Lovers", with the expressed purpose of Google bombing the acronym.[14]

Alternative meanings

The Google bomb is often misunderstood by those in the media and publishing industry who do not retain technical knowledge of Google's ranking factors. For example, talk radio host Alex Jones has often conducted what he calls "Google bombs" by dispatching instructions to his radio/Internet listeners.[15][16] In this context the term is used to describe a rapid and massive influx of keyword searches for a particular phrase. The keyword surge gives the impression that the related content has suddenly become popular. The strategy behind this type of Google bombing is to attract attention from the larger mainstream media and influence them to publish content related to the keyword.[citation needed]

Google bowling

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 or negative SEO, 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.[17][18] 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.[citation needed]

Other search engines

Other search engines use similar techniques to rank results and are also affected by Google bombs. A search for "miserable failure" or "failure" on September 29, 2006, brought up the official George W. Bush biography number one on Google, Yahoo!, and MSN and number two on Ask.com. On June 2, 2005, Tooter reported that George Bush was ranked first for the keyword "miserable", "failure", and "miserable failure" in both Google and Yahoo!; Google has since addressed this and disarmed the George Bush Google bomb and many others.

The BBC, reporting on Google bombs in 2002, used the headline "Google Hit By Link Bombers",[19] acknowledging to some degree the idea of "link bombing". In 2004, Search Engine Watch suggested that the term be "link bombing" because of its application beyond Google, and continues to use that term as it is considered more accurate.[20]

We don't condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we're also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don't affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.

— [21]

By January 2007, Google changed its indexing structure[2] so that Google bombs such as "miserable failure" would "typically return commentary, discussions, and articles" about the tactic itself.[2] Google announced the changes on its official blog. In response to criticism for allowing the Google bombs, Matt Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team, said that Google bombs had not "been a very high priority for us".[2][22]

Over time, we’ve seen more people assume that they are Google's opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Google-bombed queries. That's not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception.

— [23]

Motivations

Competitions

In May 2004, the websites Dark Blue and SearchGuild teamed up to create what they termed the "SEO Challenge" to Google bomb the phrase "nigritude ultramarine".[24]

The contest sparked controversy around the Internet, as some groups worried that search engine optimization (SEO) companies would abuse the techniques used in the competition to alter queries more relevant to the average user. This fear was offset by the belief that Google would alter their algorithm based on the methods used by the Google bombers.

In September 2004, another SEO contest was created. This time, the objective was to get the top result for the phrase "seraphim proudleduck". A large sum of money was offered to the winner, but the competition turned out to be a hoax.[citation needed]

In March 2005's issue of .net magazine, a contest was created among five professional web developers to make their site the number-one site for the made-up phrase "crystalline incandescence".

Political activism

See also: Political Google bombs in the 2004 U.S. Presidential election

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):

Commercial use

Main article: Spamdexing

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.[64][65]

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.[citation needed][66][67]

Quixtar's bomb

Quixtar, a multi-level marketing company also known as Amway North America, has been accused by its critics of using its large network of websites to move sites critical of Quixtar lower in search engine rankings. A Quixtar/Amway independent business owner (IBO) reports that a Quixtar leader advocated the practice in a meeting of Quixtar IBOs. Quixtar/Amway denied wrongdoing and states that its practices are in accordance with search engine rules.[68]

GoDaddy bomb

See also: Protests against SOPA and PIPA

On December 26, 2011, a bomb was started against GoDaddy to remove them from the #1 place on Google for "domain registration" in retaliation for its support for SOPA.[69] This was then disseminated through Hacker News.[70]

Other examples of Google bombs

In Australia, one of the first examples of Google bombs was when the keyword "old rice and monkey nuts" was used to generate traffic for Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt's website. The keyword phrase references the alleged $4 billion in loan deals brokered by Tirath Khemlani to Australia in 1974.[71]

In May 2019, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss were targets of multiple Google bombs caused by Reddit users' dissatisfaction with the eighth season of their show Game of Thrones. Targeted phrases included "bad writers" and "Dumb and Dumber".[72]

See also

References

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