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Friday, January 26, 2007

Googlebombs Defused?

Google says they’ve managed to neutralize the impact of a lot of Googlebombs.

A Googlebomb is a when a group of people get together to link to a certain site with a certain set of keywords, in order to convince Google that it ought to display that site at the top of search results when queried for these keywords. (This often worked because Google does a lot of backlinks analysis when they determine their search rankings – the words you search for need not be on the page itself which ranks well for it.) In the past, for example, people tried to connect George W. Bush’s official biography page with the word “failure”... and a counter-bomb tried to connect Michael Moore’s homepage with the same query. The impact of this trick can be increased by telling people who don’t know how Google works to “enter failure and hit the I’m Feeling Lucky button!”

Now Google always claimed that the impact of these Googlebombs wasn’t big in relation to all searches performed on Google; Google’s Marissa Mayer said Googlebombs are “distracting to some” without affecting “the overall quality of our search service,” and Matt Cutts agrees that tackling bomb phrases wasn’t high priority as they were “well off the beaten path.” But the truth is that the bombs still received major spotlighting within recurring blog and mainstream publications over the past years – and a lot of people misunderstood the Googlebombs, thinking it was Google who was delivering their opinions... a typical killing the messenger problem.

How did they attempt to do it?

Google doesn’t share exactly how they tried to defuse the impact of bombs. They reveal that they applied a scalable algorithm, as they prefer to do, which theoretically works against any kind of Googlebomb, so there’s no need for manual moderation of search results (only manual “moderation” of search result algorithms). Googlebombs made use of a core approach of Google’s algorithm: link text counts. To understand how they were able to detect Googlebombs, we need to ask: what makes a Googlebomb stand out? Which specific attributes differentiate a Googlebomb from a normal popular phrase for link texts?
Part of the answer may be found in some network analysis. I can imagine that Googlebombs have some criteria in common, like that they are always using the same link text (that much they share with some non-bombs), but that they also look like “bridges” from otherwise unconnected networks. Why would a large number of networks (neighborhoods/ communities) which are not tightly connected to a certain other network through general links show a distinct, repeated link into this opposing network? To use the “failure” example: why would the networks of US Democrats websites suddenly get together to link into an opposing Republican network?

How successful were they?

Google now says that instead of the Googlebomb target, they will “typically return commentary, discussions, and articles about the Googlebombs instead.” So how successful are they in that task? From the traces of the past that I was able to assemble, here’s an overview of the performance over time.* The short answer is that it’s hard to tell how successful the latest algorithm update was – some results remain bombed, some results were successfully changed, and some results were already “defused” in the past.

Googlebomb phrase and description Top result years ago Top result 2005 Top result 2006 Top result now
Weapons of Mass Destruction

This was a politically motivated prank page resembling a typical “File not Found” page.
blue yonder. miis. edu gwu. edu wiki pedia. org
Miserable Failure
(also: Failure)

One of the most famous Googlebombs, originally targeting only President George W. Bush, later on also Michael Moore and others.
white house. gov white house. gov white house. gov bbc.
President of the Internet

Quote: “Whoever holds the top search result for ’President of the Internet’ will in fact be the President of the Internet”.
  ceo blues. com ceo blues. com ceo blues. com
Talentless Hack

History’s first Googlebomb, in which Adam Mathes tried to associate his friend Andy Pressman’s site with the words “talentless hack”.
oh messy life. com uber. nu micro content news. com micro content news. com

A political Googlebomb targeting J.F. Kerry.
john kerry. com bb online. com bb online. com bb online. com
Arabian Gulf

Similar to “weapons of mass destruction” in that it shows what a fake file-not-found page. A combined effort “of many hundreds of bloggers, and Persian forums,” as a blogger puts its.
arabian- gulf. info   arabian- gulf. info arabian- gulf. info
Out of Touch Executives
(also: Out of Touch Management)

This Googlebomb was started by Google critic Daniel Brandt, targeting the official Google executives biography pages.
google. com scotsman. com cfo. com outer- court. com

Many people did not like the fact “Jew” pointed to a hate-site, so they linked “Jew” from their blogs to point to Wikipedia’s entry.
jew watch. com wiki pedia. org wiki pedia. org wiki pedia. org
Enemy of the People (in Russian)

A campaign to bring the official biography of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the top of the results.
    (Putin’s official biography) compromat. ru
French Military Victories

A Google mock-up telling French Military Victories did not return any documents (“Did you mean: French Military Defeats?”).
  albino black sheep. com albino black sheep. com albino black sheep. com
Völlige Inkompetenz (German for “utter incompetence”)

An Austrian Googlebomb from 2004 aimed at Austrian’s Minister of Finances, Karl-Heinz Grasser.
karl heinz grasser. at     raketa. at
Litigious Bastards
(also: Bastards)

This Googlebomb targeted the SCO Group (www. thescogroup. com) who sued the Linux community.
  litigious bastards. com litigious bastards. com litigious bastards. com

“Buffone” is the Italian word for “clown"; this Googlebomb pointed to Italian Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
  geo cities. com buffone. com buffone. com
Martin Luther King

A new Googlebomb campaign (some may say counter-campaign) to push hate-site Martin Luther King. org out of the top spot for “Martin Luther King”.
      nobel prize. org

A Googlebomb campaign had been started to associate the word “Egypt” with the Free Alaa blog at
      wiki pedia. org
(also: Poodle)

Directing searches for the word “liar” to UK prime minister Tony Blair’s official homepage. This Googlebomb took place on
gov. uk     liar. be

*Results may vary depending on your location and the Google datacenter you hit.

[Hat tip to and Alek!]


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