Wednesday 21 March 2018

Defusing a Google Bomb

*Note: the information below should not be considered endorsement of presidential candidate Rick Santorum by Edelman nor the author*

The US presidential race is underway, and so the public scrutiny begins. As President Barack Obama’s powerful “Yes We Can” campaign demonstrated, leveraging digital and social channels can propel a campaign forward. However, in the case of Rick Santorum who is vying for the Republican vote, Google’s playground can also evoke some clever schoolyard tactics.

The story goes that in 2003, Santorum made offensive remarks, and Dan Savage, a sex columnist fought back by creating a contest, inviting readers to claim his surname as a sex act, to memorialise the scandal. He selected a winner, developed the website (, and users have been creating thousands of inbound links ever since.

Fast forward eight years and this site is still capturing Google juice. It appears within the first page of listings and serves up an embarrassing conundrum for the candidate: how to defuse a Google Bomb.

Google Bombs are the deliberate attempt to redirect search traffic to or from unrelated and/or often satirical content. Famously, there was a time when searching the word “miserable failure” yielded George W. Bush as the top result. Google grew wise to the manipulation of the system, and in an effort to demonstrate its lack of involvement with said Google bomb, defused it by changing its algorithm.

Defusing the Bomb

Without a dramatic algorithm change, anyone going up against a Google Bomb is faced with fighting back through traditional Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) tactics. Some of the options are the following:

  1. Having the site removed – Google receives numerous requests for sites to removed, but unless they incite hatred or violence, do not take action. This is therefore not actually an option for most links.

  2. Investing in paid search – A person or brand can’t reclaim their search results through link building in isolation. One should invest in keyword research – utilising sites such as Google Ad Words and along with focus groups  to identify key search terms users actually type into Google when seeking information. Paying for advertisements using these key words will increase the likelihood that users will be yielding the intended website and material, rather than the joke site.

  3. Leveraging authoritative supporters for organic search – Specifically for Santorum, his donors, voters and supporters represent a wealth of opportunities to generate on-message, positive content. What’s important is that his team reach out to authoritative fans – those who have an established, popular (with many inbound links and a low on-site bounce rate) presence and properly tagged content. Quality of links – or the level if influence connected to those links – is critical.

  4. Amplify the fans that are generating tweets, Facebook posts, Google Plus posts, blog posts, podcasts, articles and more. Positive media articles are particularly important because they are shareable, and can displace negative content if the media is shared within social networks.

  5. Leveraging owned platforms and creating a web of stories online – Use/create communities around Flickr, YouTube, SlideShare, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and other sites. These offer a wealth of opportunity to generate content for readers. The more useful the content, and the better the content is optimised for search (inclusive of meta tags, links, etc.), the more likely this will move upward in search rankings.

  6. Focusing on rich media – Search engines and users love rich media. According to comScore, users click on images first (84%), then video and news second respectively (19 and 18%). Images are not beneficial to all sites, however. Video in particular drives click-throughs (19%), so it represents a good portion of the search engine results page and is favoured by Google.  A strong YouTube strategy with appropriate tagging would be advisable.

  7. Ensuring proper tagging for indexingBy optimising content using known writing tips for search, fans and owned platform managers can feed Google spiders and ultimately, push bad content into later search results pages that are less likely to be viewed.


  8. Adding social buttons to the .com – With the launch of Google Search Plus You World, personalised and social search is becoming increasing important online. By taking simple steps to build up visibility of people’s activity within networks, you can increase eyeballs and ultimately Google page rankings of various owned platforms. This will involve adding Facebook, Twitter and other icons to separate pages too.

As the world gears up for the election, politicians and their stakeholders can anticipate politics playing out in the Google arena. By developing a content strategy inclusive of search engine optimisation and search-optimised content, players can help avoid and mitigate erroneous Google Bombs more effectively.

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