With the November mid-term elections just a few weeks away in the U.S., one website is urging its readers to manipulate Google's organic search results in an effort to lead Democrats to victory.
Chris Bowers of The Daily Kos calls the practice "Grassroots SEO," but it's basically Google bombing, or link bombing.
The goal of a link bomb is for many websites or blogs to work together to influence the rankings (popularity) of certain pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs), mainly on Google, but also in other search engines like Bing and Yahoo.
Sounds just like what Bowers is trying to accomplish. He wants undecided voters "to read the most damaging news article about the Republican candidate for Congress in their district" when they search for info.
"...not only is it possible for us to use our hyperlinks to impact what people find when they search for information on candidates, but we would be foolish not to do so in a way that benefited our preferred candidates. We are already impacting search engine rankings whenever we post any hyperlink anywhere, so we need to make sure the way we use hyperlinks helps result in our preferred political outcomes."
On RedState, Neil Stevens responded, calling it a "pagerank scam," and sought a "death sentence" from Google on the entire Daily Kos domain for spamming.
"So the ball's in your court, Google. If you do not delist Daily Kos for this behavior you call unethical, then you have a partisan political bias," Stevens wrote.
This is actually a repeat of a 2006 U.S. mid-term elections strategy, when about 50 Republicans became targets of similar bombings. Bowers was the architect there as well, and foes called him "unscrupulous," and "fascinatingly evil" at the time. Conservatives also fought back in the SERPs with the same tactics (as they will no doubt do again this year).
This is just the latest incarnation of users trying to manipulate Google's SERPs for their own devices -- whether political, business, or humorous.
The most famous political link bomb occurred when many sites used the anchor text "miserable failure" and linked to President George W. Bush's biography on the White House site in 2004. It was eventually defused in 2007 on Google, but Bush's bio is still returned on page one of Bing/Yahoo's SERPs.Tony Blair has also been a target. Both Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama have also been victims of Google bombs.
Offensive Search Results
A search for [jew] still returns anti-Semetic website Jew Watch News on the first page of Google's SERPs. This one dates back to 2004. Google still runs a sponsored link, explaining that they are "disturbed about these results as well."
This summer, a group of users created a link bomb that linked the phrase [I can read Wikipedia] back to a Wikipedia page for a racial slur for black people.
In 2008, a year after the Google bombs were supposedly defused, a search for [dangerous cult] returned Scientology.org.
And then there was columnist Dan Savage, who created a website after former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum made some bigoted remarks about homosexuality. He created a website, and redefined the name "santorum" to mean something nasty.
Conspiracy to Manipulate Google Trends
Others have learned how to game Google's results. To promote an article on his website, radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in September asked audience members to begin searching Google for two specific queries: [save his presidency] and [Obama terror attack].
Both search terms were briefly driven to the top of Google Trends. Jones also used this tactic in July to promote a movie he produced.
On July 8, 2009, radio hosts Opie & Anthony also got two searches to rank in Google Trends -- [Rev Al is a racist] made it to No. 1, while [Corey Feldman is hurting] made it to No. 14.
Google's rankings are imperfect. It's hard to know if this strategy will succeed, but don't expect much intervention from Google.
Google's take on this tactic back in 2006 is probably the same as it is now:
"We don't condone the practice of Google-bombing or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results," spokesman Ricardo Reyes said. He added that such campaigns are not impossible but are unlikely to be effective given the complexity of the Google search algorithm.