Attack of the Google bomb

There was a time not long ago when a Google search for “Holocaust” revealed top results indicating that it didn’t happen.

In 1999, a search using the Google search engine for “more evil than Satan himself” would have led to the Microsoft homepage.

Leading up to the Iraq war, an online hunt for “weapons of mass destruction” produced a page resembling a standard internet error page with the message “these Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed”, offering visitors the option to “click the regime change button”. Or better yet, “If you are George Bush and typed the country’s name in the address bar, make sure that it is spelled correctly (IRAQ)”

Some people may have become familiar with “Google bombing” back in 2005, when a search for “miserable failure” led to George Bush’s bio on the White House website. Secondary results pointed to US President Jimmy Carter and controversial filmmaker Michael Moore. The witty web weapon was in effect through 2007, when the bomb was effectively extinguished by a higher authority (Google changed their algorithim).

Wired UK recently included a small blurb about Google bombing (December 2010) which re-ignited my interest in the phenomenon.

On a basic level, the way it works is that Google’s “web spiders” look for key words in the content and back-end coding of a website, in addition to counting how often a site is linked to using those same keywords. The more people click on those higher search results, the more likely a site is to remain in that top position.

In other words, web developers can team up with their other web developer friends, link to each other using whatever phrase they want and trick Google into putting their site in the top position.

While Google bombs about Microsoft, George Bush and “French military victories” have gained media attention, I find myself wondering what other bombs are hiding out there. Convinced this whole occurrence is really at the end of the day a modern day “revenge of the nerds”, I consider, what a sneaky web developer would want planted in cyber-space.

So this week I embarked on a little investigation with words and phrases like “hot computer geek” and “the man”, and found nothing but the usual Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary and normal porn/e-commerce sites.

While not nearly as exciting as the cyber-sneak attacks on Dubya, I did discover that a Google glance for “snowball” first produces a video of a singing pet presumably with that name.

A search for “smartest person in the world” leads to a site created by an SEO specialist in an attempt to convince his child to listen to him and do his homework. I’m really not the smartest person in the world,” he says, “I just made Google think I am”. At the time of web-publication, the site’s creator had his son convinced of his fame and extreme intelligence. In reality, he is a relatively small-town business owner who knows how to manipulate the web.

It’s a bit funny, but also frightening, that the day has actually come when a young child believes a machine before his own father. Who knows, maybe the next Google bomb will be set off by a child, convincing his (or her) parents that their school doesn’t give homework anymore.  And they might just be the next Mark Zuckerberg.  If not, they can at least convince Google that they are.

allypress :

  • ally

    I reached out to the "smartest person in the world" for an interview for this post, he got back to me after publication with the following:

    " I did drop another Google bomb that kind of went out of control… I ran for president of the United Sates (not really) but the media picked it up and it kind of got out of hand.

    I made a website that I got to rank #1 for "the next president of the united

    states of america" and stuff like that. It was supposed to be a viral

    marketing thing but people took it seriously. I ended up playing along for a while until I finally shut it down."

  • Ally,

    Thanks for the article, love it! I would quibble with you on one thing… Minneapolis, MN, where I own my business, in not a "relatively small town." The 'Twin Cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota are actually the 16th largest metropolitan area in the United States. Yes, I live in Apple Valley, MN but it's a suburb of Minneapolis and part of that greater metro area.

    • Hi Mic, I am so glad you liked it! I thought your website was very clever. I hope you will excuse my reference to the "relatively small town", I am originally from NY so most places are small in comparison!

  • TommyT

    I had never heard of the Google Bomb phenomena until reading the column. Great work – as always – Ally. Right now I am making web results for "New York Times" and "Justin Bieber" direct to this blog.

  • Sam

    I remember the George Bush one – That was before I started to research into key words for my own website , Now it all makes a little more sense. You have to laugh though the google team just having a bit of fun I reakon.

  • Carolyn Press

    Interesting timing on this post given the Bing issue! Here is where anyone can find some information on how Google fights search 'spam'.

  • it is an interesting article, the crawlers read what is with them as content or text but they dnt generally see the relevance of the content in actual and in such a situation any smart person can fool crawlers.