A Google bomb or Google wash is a certain attempt to influence the ranking of a given page in results returned by the Google search engine. Due to the way that Google's PageRank algorithm works, a page will be ranked higher if the sites that link to that page all use consistent anchor text. A Google bomb is created if a large number of sites link to the page in this manner. Google bomb is used both as a verb and a noun.
See Spamdexing for the practice of deliberately and dishonestly modifying HTML pages to increase the chance of them being placed close to the beginning of search engine results, or to influence the category to which the page is assigned in a dishonest manner.
As an example of Google bombing, if a user registers many domains and all of them link to a main site with the text "... is a living legend" then searching for "living legend" on Google will return the main site higher in the ranking, even if the phrase "living legend" doesn't appear on the main site. A common means of exploiting this is through weblogs, where although the entry may disappear from the main page quickly, the short-term effects of a link can dramatically affect the ranking of a given site. Empirical results indicate that it does not take a large number of websites to achieve a Googlebomb. The effect has been achieved with only a handful of dedicated weblogs.
The above has to be qualified, however. A handful of blog links will not Google bomb someone like Amazon out of the top results for "books," for example. In fact, Googlebombs have generally had an impact on relatively "non-competitive" terms, where there's no particular page that seems to be necessarily the right answer.
The technique was first discussed on April 6, 2001 in an article by Adam Mathes . In that article, he coined the term "Google bombing" and explained how he discovered that Google used the technique to calculate page rankings. He found that a search for "internet rockstar" returned the website of a Ben Brown as the first result, even though "internet rockstar" did not appear anywhere on Brown's webpage. He reasoned that Google's algorithm returned it as the first result because many fan sites that linked to Brown's website used that phrase on their own pages.
Mathes began testing his theory by setting out to make the website of his friend Andy Pressman the number one result for a query of "talentless hack". He gave instructions for creating websites and links to Pressman's website with the text of the link reading "talentless hack". Sure enough, as other webloggers joined in his Googlebombing campaign, Pressman's website became the number one result in a Google search for "talentless hack". (Ironically, by 2004, Mathes's own site was the number one Google result of this search term. As of 03 November, 2005, it remains first.)
However, the first Google bomb mentioned in the popular press may have occurred accidentally in 1999, when users discovered that the query "more evil than Satan" returned Microsoft's home page. Now, it returns links to several news articles on the discovery.
Ironically, Google bombs often end their life by being too popular or well known, thereby attaining a mention in well regarded web journals and knocking the bomb off the top spot. It is sometimes commented that Google bombing need not be countered because of this self-disassembly.
In addition, the entire notion of "Google bombs" might be better described as "link bombing," given that these campaigns can certainly have an effect on other search engines, as well. All major search engines make use of link analysis and thus can be impacted. So, a search for "miserable failure" on 1 June 2005 brought up the official George W. Bush biography number one on Google, Yahoo and MSN and number two on Ask Jeeves. On 2 June 2005 Yooter reported that George Bush is now ranked first for the keyword 'failure' as well as 'miserable failure' in both Google and Yahoo. And on September 16, 2005, Marissa Mayer wrote on Google Blog about the practice of Google bombing and the word "failure." (See Google's response below)
The BBC in reporting on Googlebombs in 2002 actually used the headline of "Google Hit By Link Bombers," acknowledging to some degree the idea of "link bombing." In 2004, the Search Engine Watch site said that the term should be "link bombing" because of the impact beyond Google and continues to use that term as more accurate.
Nevertheless, "Google bombing" was added to the New Oxford American Dictionary in May 2005.
In May 2004, Dark Blue and SearchGuild.com teamed up to create what they termed the "SEO Challenge". They offered an Apple iPod mini to the person whose page was the first result for the search phrase "nigritude ultramarine" one month after the competition's start. A second prize, a Sony flat-screen monitor, was the prize for being the first result a month later. These went to merkey.net and Anil Dash , respectively.
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 googlebombers.
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.
In .net magazine, Issue 134, March 2005, a contest was created among 5 professional web site developers to make their site the number one listed site for the made-up phrase "crystalline incandescence". (Read the article here.)
Google has defended its algorithms as simply a reflection of the opinion on the Internet, saying that it is not damaging the overall quality of its services. Google has said it expects Googlebombing to return to obscurity and has dismissed it as "cybergraffiti" and just another internet fad.
On 18 January 2005 the Google blog entry "Preventing comment spam" declared that Google will henceforth respect a
rel="nofollow" attribute on hyperlinks. Their page ranking algorithm now avoids links with this attribute when ranking the destination page. The intended result is that site administrators can easily modify user-posted links such that the attribute is present, and thus an attempt to googlebomb by posting a link on such a site would yield no increase from that link. (or at least we would hope...)
On 16 September 2005 Marissa Mayer, Director of Consumer Web Products for Google wrote on Google Blog an apology to those who were offended by the result of President George W. Bush's biography with the search of "failure", "miserable", and "miserable failure", stating that Google has no control over and does not condone the act of Google bombing. Apparently, people who sent in complaints believed that the search results showed Google's political bias.
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. (Source: Google Blog)
Googlebombing in general
In some cases, the phenomenon has produced competing attempts to use the same search term as a Googlebomb. As a result, the first result at any given time varies, but the targeted sites will occupy all the top slots using a normal search instead of "I'm feeling lucky". Notable instances of this include failure and miserable failure. The primary targets have been the Bush biography above, and Michael Moore's website at www.michaelmoore.com.
Searching for miserabile fallimento (Italian for "miserable failure") was returning Berlusconi biography, until the webmaster inserted the HTML tag that prevents the page from being indexed by Google (
<meta name="googlebot" content="noindex, nofollow" />).
It is interesting to note that because of the popularity of Google, other search engines such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, and HotBot are also affected by Google Bombs. A search of "miserable failure" on the aforementioned search engines produces the biography of George W. Bush listed at the White House site as the first link on the list. Only a few search engines, such as Ask Jeeves!, MetaCrawler and ProFusion, do not produce the same first links as the rest of the search engines. MetaCrawler and ProFusion are metasearch engines which use multiple search engines. This might explain why they do not produce the biography of George W. Bush listed at the White House site as the first link on the list when searching for "miserable failure."
Some unscrupulous website operators have adapted googlebombing techniques to spamdexing.
One such technique is the posting of links to a site in an Internet forum along with phrases the promoter hopes to associate with the site. 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.
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 a large number of subdomains linking to each other is a boost to the PageRank of those subdomains and of any other site they link to.
As of 2 February 2005, many have noticed changes in the Google algorithm that largely affects, among other things, Googlebombs. As evidence of this, ponder that only roughly 10% of the googlebombs listed below work as of 15 February 2005. This is largely due to Google refactoring its valuation of PageRank, mostly in an effort to keep up with the encroaching result relevancy of the Yahoo and MSN search engines, which many people claim are not nearly as easy to "hack" as Google.
The Quixtar Google bombing example
In 2005, multi-level marketing giant Quixtar began a "Quixtar Web Initiative" to manipulate Google results. The project was considered by many to be a clear and flagrant violation of Google's Quality Guidelines.
According to a web article called Quixtar Admits Google Bombing, a Quixtar Diamond told members that the company had "hired geekoids who were spending their time Google bombing positive info about Quixtar so that the negative sites would be buried way down at the bottom of the Google list when a prospect types in Quixtar [in a search engine]. Nobody will even be able to find the negative sites anymore."
The goal presented was to smother anti-Quixtar sites, such as a consumer protection group, an eBook about Amway and Quixtar, and grassroots movements from ex-Quixtar members that claim Amway and Quixtar are Pyramid schemes, cults, and use deceptive business practices.
Quixtar's attempt to lower the ranking of such negative web sites backfired, and, for a few months, Quixtar's Google results suffered for its attempted Googlebombing.
The organized effort to manipulate search engine results was first brought to light by bloggers which detailed the evidence in an article "So Busted".
Ironically, the site that reported Quixtar's attempt to Google bomb once occupied the first search position under "Quixtar". Often, in fact, a majority of the top ten results for the term "Quixtar" are sites critical of the Quixtar business opportunity and its lines of sponsorship. This is mixed in with real positive results, however, and helps to show both sides of the arguments.
Quixtar's initiative included at least 54 Quixtar Blogs and numerous other company-related sites, character assassination blogs, adoration blogs, and various other pages. Immediately after the exposure many of the blogs shut down or reduced their content.
Some of Quixtar's independent lines of sponsorship have also been among the largest abusers of Google bombing. These independent lines of sponsorship are led by high-level Independent Business Owners, or IBOs, called Diamonds, Crowns, and Crown Ambassadors.
Search engine bombing before Google
Before Google existed, eccentric USENET poster Archimedes Plutonium, upset with the attention he received from users who found him amusing, posted an angry message to two science newsgroups. He accused these people of "SearchEnginebombing," an offshoot of Emailbombing, that was cluttering the web/USENET with negative comments about him, so a search engine would find more of them than his own postings. Unlike "Google Bombing", the term "Search Engine Bombing" didn't immediately catch on, and initially its use has been primarily limited to Archimedes Plutonium, and USENET posters who mocked him.
Recent (as of 2005) and popular examples are:
- Anti-war peace protesters returns a fake google error page which suggests "Anti-war violent protesters" as an alternate search.
- "Arabian Gulf" - points to an error look-alike page saying that "the gulf you are looking for does not exist." The page links to the Wikipedia entry on the Persian Gulf, the more common English name for the body of water east of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Iran.
- Awful Announcer brings you to the official website of frequently criticized baseball color commentator Tim McCarver
- Buffone - unofficial Silvio Berlusconi (Italian Prime Minister) biography. "buffone" is the Italian for "clown".
- buggy insecure browser used to return the download.com page for Internet Explorer. This was found to be particularly amusing when entered into the address bar of IE's competitor Firefox, which performed an "I'm Feeling Lucky" search that automatically took the user to that page. The download.com link has since slipped from the first few pages of results.
- Despota Cachaceiro used to return the website of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, about the polemic New York Times article.
- Failure - points to the biography of George W. Bush at the official White House website. (Google's response) Second place goes to Michael Moore's web site.
- Food Nazis - Points to "Center for Science in Public Interest" (which advocates strict regulatory oversight of genetically engineered foods).
- French military victories returns a fake google error page which suggests "French military defeats" as an alternate search. This page was first created sometime in 2003 in response to France's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (French military also works).
- fuckwit used to return John Prescott who is Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He rose through the trade union movement from humble beginnings as a steward in the merchant navy, and is renowned for his straight-talking manner and general aura of incompetence.
- gastrointestinal dysentery returns Kres Chophouse & Lounge in Orlando, Florida. A restaurant that fired a server for blogging about work.
- Gladjakker ("smoothie") returns website of Camiel Eurlings, the leader of the Dutch Christian-Democrat fraction in the European Parliament.
- hell used to put Microsoft's homepage in the top spot. Searching for hell google microsoft returns reference to this.
- Ignorant Asshole returns the website of Cal Thomas. The reason was his column.
- ignorant bigots - returns the official page of Christian Voice, a fundamentalist Christian organisation in the UK.
- Insignifiant (French for "trivial"), returns the official page of Jean Charest, Premier of the province of Quebec, in Canada.
- International Sign for Choking in Google Images search use to yield the logo of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, shortly after their defeat in Super Bowl XXXIX. The same search recently showed a logo of the New York Yankees baseball team, in reference to their stunning ALCS loss to the Red Sox in 2004. (As of June 2005, neither of these results are returned)
- jämmerlicher Waschlappen (German for "miserable washcloth") returns the government page of Christoph Blocher, a Swiss Federal Council
- Jew - JewWatch, a group that monitors Jewish activity, was for a long time the number one hit when searching on Google for "Jew", perhaps because of its linking pattern. The Wikipedia entry replaced it following a Googlebombing campaign organized by Daniel Sieradski, editor of the blog Jew School.    Google added an explanation page entitled Offensive Search Results and placed it in the sponsored link section.
- kretyn (which means "cretin" in Polish) - returns the page with information about Polish politician Andrzej Lepper
- iznogoud (a character who wants to become number one) - Points to "Biographie - Nicolas SARKOZY".
- Ladrones (Spanish for "thieves") points to the homepage of SGAE, (Sociedad General de Autores y Editores), the Spanish equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The SGAE is an extremely unpopular association in Spain since they not only try to prosecute users of P2P applications, but also impose surcharges on the price of physical media such as recordable CDs in order to account for the theoretical losses due to P2P exchanges.
- liar on google.co.uk - returns Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, accused of misleading the public over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He is also 4th in the world rankings at google.com, having earlier been on top.
- litigious bastards gives the homepage of the SCO Group, which initiated the SCO v. IBM lawsuit alleging copyright violation in the Linux kernel. bastards also worked.
- lying sack of shit returns the Parliamentary web page of Australian Federal Attorney General Phillip Ruddock. This bomb was suggested by weezil and executed by a number of Australian bloggers in protest of Ruddock's criticism of Mamdouh Habib
- lul(Dutch for 'dick') returns the web page of the Belgian politician Hugo Coveliers (If it doesn't work, make sure you're on google.be).
- Miserabile fallimento - official Silvio Berlusconi (Italian Prime Minister) biography. "miserabile fallimento" is the Italian for "miserable failure".
- Miserable failure, miserable worst president and great president brings up the official George W. Bush biography from the US White House web site. Due to the search query of "miserable failure," the search terms miserable and failure (miserable failure combined) also point to the biography of George W. Bush, with Michael Moore ranking number two. Recently, they've added unelectable to point to the biography on the White House's homepage. Interestingly enough, www.unelectable.com also points to the same page, and is second in Google's Search for "unelectable." See also miserable failure. With the addition of Google Local and Maps, searching for the phrase in Washington DC provides George W. Bush as the first result.
- Mouton insignifiant (French for "trivial sheep") - returns the official page of Jean Charest, Premier of the province of Quebec, in Canada. It refers to his curly hairs.
- Old Rice And Monkey Nuts returns the website of Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt. The phrase is an obscure reference to Tirath Khemlani, a Pakistani commodities trader who was involved in brokering an improbable US$4 billion loan deal to the Australian Government under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1974. Khemlani was known derisively by his usual line of trade - rice and monkey nuts. As he was involved in commodities and not financial transactions as a rule, it was believed that Khemlani did not have access to the funds as he claimed but would attempt to oblige the Australian Government of the day to pay a huge commission for arranging the proposed loan. The bomb was perpetrated at the suggestion of Ausculture for reasons unknown.
- Out of Touch Executives - Used to lead to Google's own corporate information page. Out of Touch Management used to work as well.
- Searching UK domains only for poodle gives you a link to a Tony Blair biography (now the sixth result in the list).
- populista (Slovak for "populist") - returns an official homepage of Robert Fico, a left-wing Slovakian politician.
- ¿Quién quiere estafarnos? (Spanish for "Who wants to swindle us?") points to the homepage of Telecom, provider of phone and ADSL services in southern Argentina. This bombing was started at http://bombardeo.blogspot.com because of the company's announcement to limit download transfer to 4 GB per month (for 512 kbit/s connections).
- Raar Kapsel ("Weird Haircut" in Dutch) - Returns the biography of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Jan Peter Balkenende, who is known for his distinctive hairstyle.
- Santorum - "Spreading Santorum," a campaign to ridicule Senator Santorum by naming a mixture of bodily substances after him (see Santorum controversy).
- Scottish Raj returns the website of Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer. This googlebomb was initiated by The Campaign for an English Parliament news blog, whose author objected to Brown's calls for a renewed sense of Britishness and ambition to become UK Prime Minister when his native Scotland has its own parliament.
- swivel eyed loons returns the homepage of the UK Independence Party after the phrase - initially used to describe the party by blogger Anthony Wells - was adopted by several British bloggers.
- Velky bratr (Czech for "Big Brother") - returns a biography of Stanislav Gross, the Prime Minister of Czech Republic.
- völlige Inkompetenz (in eng. "total incompetence") returns the homepage of Karl-Heinz Grasser, the Austrian minister of finance.
- Waffles - Used to lead to John Kerry's 2004 election site, originated here. A play on Kerry's opponents' accusations that he routinely changed back and forth (or "waffled") between various political positions as convenient.
- Weapons of mass destruction - Internet Explorer Error look-alike joke page saying "weapons of mass destruction cannot be found". (Note: as of 1 December 2004, the joke page, although still available at , had fallen to 20th place in the Google search result.)
- purge princess brings up the Senate Campaign blog of Katherine Harris.
- Google Blog 2005-Jan-18 Preventing comment spam
- Adam Mathes' original webzine article (first attacker)
- Andy Pressman (first victim)
- "Googlebomb Watch" (http://blog.outer-court.com/googlebomb/) - Keeping track of Googlebombs
- Google hit by link bombers - BBC News, March 13, 2002
- Top of the Heap - Business 2.0, July 2002 - Ego bombing
- Web Posters Launch Anti-Bush 'Google Bomb' - ABC News, December 8, 2003
- Engineering Google Results to Make a Point - NY Times, January 22, 2004
- Why Googling 'Waffles' Gets You John Kerry's Web Site - MTV News, May 28, 2004
- Kerry gets served up with 'waffles' - USA Today, April 11 , 2004
- Student trying to 'bomb' Kerry - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 16 , 2004
- Kerry Gets Google-Bombed - Wired News, May 24 , 2004
- Dropping 'Google-bombs' - San Diego Union-Tribune, June 14 , 2004
- The war on the web: Anthony Cox describes how his spoof error page turned into a 'Google bomb' for weapons of mass destruction - The Guardian, July 10, 2003