Google Bombing

The term Google bombing refers to the artificial improvement of the SEO profile of a website in Google’s search index. Inbound links that direct to the page in question are linked to a keyword that does not exist on that page and therefore is not relevant to the entered search query. If a particularly large number of links are placed in this wise, a higher ranking can be achieved in the Google search results. Sometimes Google bombs are realized as crowdsourcing where a lot of webmasters link certain terms with a website.

Google bombing is used for different purposes. These procedures often find application in a political context, whereby terms with a negative connotation are brought in connection to the website of a politician. If the bombing refers not to Google, but other search engines, it is also called link bombing, spamdexing, link and keyword spam or negative SEO. Nevertheless, the term Google bombing has prevailed since it is the leading search engine in many countries.

How it originated

One of the first Google bombs directed to the Microsoft website was with the term “more evil than Satan himself” in 1999. The search results of AOL were affected as well, but not those of Yahoo. The search queries in this time period show that this Google bomb was more popular than many other keywords. Because of its wide reach, many recipients were made aware of it and notified Google about the unusual search result. Google assumed that the search results were not manipulated and that it did not involve commercial spamdexing. Instead, Google initially assumed that this was the result of normal fluctuations in the search results or on the world wide web.[1]

First, politicians were the focus of ranking manipulation. They were often caricatured and linked to defamatory terms. Adam Mathes published an online post in 2001 that described the methodology of link bombings with an example. He linked the phrase “talentless hack” with his friend Andy Pressman’s website. Mathes first used the term Google bombing.[2] Later, the method was also used in the commercial sector to bring websites much higher up in the rankings. A number of SEO agencies, that mass-edited certain link texts and linked the sites of their clients were responsible for that. Google countered it with algorithm changes and stricter Webmaster guidelines.

How it works

In fact, the methodology Google uses to evaluate websites was exploited ad absurdum and mostly for political purposes. The Google search results are still today partially based on the PageRank algorithm. It assesses the popularity of a website using the links directed to it and the terms which are listed for the anchor text. The more links with corresponding terms direct to a particular website in question, the stronger this website will be in the search results for those terms, according to the theory. In principle, therefore, it was possible to link websites with terms that have absolutely no thematic connection with the content of that website.

Google, however, no longer assesses websites only based on the frequency of links in web content, but also the relevance of the content. Added to that are hundreds more technical, content-related and structural ranking factors, overall, there are thought to be more than 200 ranking factors. This method provides valid results generally, but was prone to ranking manipulation and SEO tricks due to the basic PageRank algorithm in the past. Google responded to Google bombings with a filter algorithm, in which the manipulated search results were limited to debate contributions and comments. According to Matt Cutts, the link structure of websites is analyzed in such a way that presumed Google bombs can be identified and selected. Posts that provide information about the event itself are, however, not selected out, because they clearly could be relevant to a corresponding search request.

Adversarial information retrieval was likely used to identify Google bombs.[3] Data which has been at least partially manipulated gets used in adversarial IR. This includes methods to discover these manipulations. Textual and link-based patterns are searched for so that manipulation can be detected based on their structure. Similar methods are used in link, keyword, and comment spam, cloaking, click fraud, and other black hat SEO techniques. Nowadays, Google massively counters manipulative measures to ensure the objectivity of search results.

Examples of famous Google bombs

  • A well-known Google bombing was the search query “miserable failure” in 2004. Opponents of the then US President George W. Bush placed their link to an official text on Bush, his profile page of the White House. This bomb was removed in early 2007 with a newly-introduced filtering algorithm.[4]
  • The terms “weapons of mass destruction” were linked with a humorous website that claimed that “these weapons of mass destruction cannot be displayed.” This was a criticism of the former approach of the US government in Iraq.[5] This Google bomb is also an example of media activism, since the public perception of a particular topic is supposed to be changed, which is also described as “hit and run media attack” and is similar to newsjacking.
  • With the search query “worst band in the world” users were directed to a Google results page that gives users the statement “See results for: Creed.”[6]
  • The terms “French military victories” directed to a website that looked like a Google search results page. The website asked whether the terms “French military defeats” were meant, and claims that there are no websites containing the terms of the first search query.[7]

Relevance to search engine optimization

The methodology of Google bombing made it clear that the search results are generated only through algorithms and are thus not immune to manipulation. Google itself repeatedly stressed that as a rule, manual actions do not influence the SERPs even though penalties exist now. Similar to reverse engineering, such as Google bowling, various SEO contests, and Google washing, Google bombing is an attempt to purposely change the search results. By exploiting the dependencies on the PageRank algorithm, the results of the automatic process can be reversed into its opposite. By the frequency of links and the anchor text used with it, websites could be introduced in the SERPs that had semantically nothing to do with the search query. In retrospect, therefore, it can be assumed as a thesis that these various Google bombs led to an improvement of the search results because Google has since been putting more emphasis on thematic relevance, depth of content, and the structure of content and link profile.

References

  1. Search engines gang up on Microsoft edition.cnn.com. Accessed on 01/25/2016
  2. Google bomb searchcrm.techtarget.com. Accessed on 01/25/2016
  3. Adversarial Information Retrieval in the Web researchgate.net. Accessed on 01/25/2016
  4. The 10 Most Incredible Google Bombs searchenginepeople.com. Accessed on 01/25/2016
  5. Google Bombing knowyourmeme.com. Accessed on 01/25/2016
  6. Google again suggests Creed is the worst band in the world latimesblogs.latimes.com. Accessed on 01/25/2016
  7. French Military Victories albinoblacksheep.com. Accessed on 01/25/2016

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