It sounds frightening. Google "Bombs" are now going off, where web sites are influencing Google's search results by controlling where they link to and what they say in their links, according to Corante's Microcontent News site.
Of course, Google has always worked this way. What people link to and what they say in their links is a major component in how Google organizes its search results. Links can even be the predominant factor, in some cases.
The classic Google Bomb, if we're going to use that word, was way back at the end of 1999, when it was discovered that a search for "more evil than satan himself" brought up the Microsoft web site. At the end of 2000, we had the "Liv Tyler nude" incident, along with the more notorious search for an insulting slur that brought up the official George W. Bush campaign web site.
In all these cases, what people linked to helped influence the results that came up in Google. Moreover, link analysis was probably more important than usual in determining these results because few pages in the results set probably had much link value to boost them, in addition to the more traditional measures such as the words on the pages themselves.
In other words, if you have 1,000 pages all relevant textually for "liv tyler nude," then the one page that's actually developed links to it will probably get the edge over the others. Following on this, it's no real surprise to read in the Microcontent article below about someone manipulating links to get their friend to come up tops for "Talentless Hack" in Google or for a journalist to get ranked tops for his name.
The story goes on to ponder whether Google will succumb to future bombs, especially "Money Bombs" where people are trying to manipulate Google to make money. Anyone in the search engine marketing industry will probably be having a good chuckle over this. Attempts to manipulate Google through links for money reasons have been going on for ages. People have created entire networks of interlinked web sites, in an attempt to influence Google.
Google combats these attempts by identifying what it considers to be "artificial" link structures and adjusting or eliminating their influence in the rankings. Google has also recently taken action against reciprocal link pages, link "farms" and guest books, downplaying their importance in its link analysis algorithms. And there's no doubt that Google will take action against weblogs, if those weblogs are seen as manipulating results in a way that doesn't correspond with user expectations.
Google Time Bomb
Microcontent News, March 3, 2002
There's a section in this that ponders whether Google gives "older" links less weight. Google doesn't care how "old" a link is. Instead, Google is likely to weight a link more heavily if it's on the home page of a web site, primarily because that home page is likely to have more links pointing at it -- thus upping its PageRank score. If a link moves from that page to an "inside" page, that inside page has less of a reputation and thus can transmit less to other pages. And by the way, the proposed "solution" of blogrolling isn't going to be that helpful. The more links that are on a page, the less reputation that gets passed to them from the parent page, under Google's system.
Google hit by link bombers
BBC, March 13, 2002
Summarizes the Microcontent News article above. However, the Microcontent article did not say that the attempt to Google Bomb for "daniel pearl" was successful. Nevertheless, the BBC article turned this into a fact.
Google on guard for practical jokers
Reuters, March 14, 2002
Has comments from Google, explaining that for more popular terms, Google Bombs aren't likely to go off.
Google Search Engine Unfazed by 'Googlewhackers'
NewsFactor.com, March 14, 2002
Google's been quite public in saying that it has to combat link spam, so it's extremely odd to then see the search engine quoted as saying Google Bombs have not been used for marketing or commercial purposes. But perhaps they were referring only to Google Bombs off of weblog pages.
Bush's Dubious Victory At Google
The Search Engine Report, Feb. 6, 2001
Explains what happened with an unmentionable search and the George W. Bush campaign web site.
Lookin' For Liv In All The Wrong Places
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 3, 2000
This Google blip wouldn't make Liv Tyler very happy, though it's still hard to see which page for this particular search she would have liked best.
More Evil Than Dr. Evil?
The Search Engine Report, Nov. 1, 1999
The classic Google blip, that put Bill Gates on par with Satan. By the way, the answer to the riddle mentioned in the story is "nothing." See http://www.exodus-coach.co.uk/A_Riddle.htm.
More About Link Analysis
For Search Engine Watch members, explains how search engines make use of links from across the web to find pages and rank them in relation to searches. Includes many tips on how to locate "important" sites and request links that can help you with search engine positioning efforts.