Google bomb

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File:Miserable failure.png
A screen shot of the results of searching for Miserable failure on Google. In one of the more well known Google Bombings, the site was manipulated so that the first Miserable failure result links to George W. Bush's biography on the official White House web site.

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.

Background

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 [1]. 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.

Googlebombing competitions

Main articles: nigritude ultramarine, seraphim proudleduck

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 [2], 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's response

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."

Commercial googlebombing

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.

As of September 2005, a search on Google for "Quixtar " reveals that Quixtar.com is again the number one result.

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.

See also

External links

Accomplished Googlebombs

Recent (as of 2005) and popular examples are:

  • purge princess brings up the Senate Campaign blog of Katherine Harris.

News Articles

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