Google Bomb!

September 10, 2006

Definition: (noun or verb) A technique through which a group of bloggers working together can make a webpage come up when someone searches Google for certain keywords.

Will Weblogs blow up the world’s favorite search engine?

by John Hiler

Google and Weblogs seem inextricably tied together, as link-rich blogs are increasingly influencing the algorithms of Google’s search engine.

But with great power comes great responsibility… and the weblog community is only now beginning to come to terms with a new application that subverts the very technology that powers Google, the world’s favorite search engine.

Yes, we’re referring to the Google Bomb.

What’s a Google Bomb?

Google Bombs were conceived last April as part of a brilliant gag by Adam Mathes. In his own words:

Google is unique among search engines in that while it almost always shows you pages that have the exact keywords you are looking for, occasionally it will show you pages that don’t have those keywords, but other pages linked to that page with those words.

I first discovered this when searching for internet rockstar, which turned up Ben’s page. [editor: Adam is referring to internet rockstar Ben Brown] At the time though, he did not actually have that phrase on his page however the legions of teeny-bopper blogger morons who linked to him always used that phrase in their links.

Adam identified a critical loophole in Google’s algorithm. This article I’m writing may be about Google Bombs… but if enough sites linked to it using the phrase “Aunt Jemima,” then this article might come up as the first search result for “Aunt Jemima.” In other words, the linker can impact the Google Rank of the linkee.

And thus was born the Google Bomb. As Adam notes:

[S]imply having tons of the same links with the same phrase on a single page will do nothing. It requires a multitude of pages to have that link with specific link text. But this power can be harnessed with a concentrated group effort.

So a single Google Bomb isn’t enough… you need an army of bloggers throwing Google Bombs into their weblogs.

Adam lobbed the first Google Bomb as a joke, aimed squarely at a friend of his: Andy “Talentless Hack” Pressman. Amazingly, a year later, Adam’s Google Bomb demonstrates tremendous staying power, as Andy’s website is still the number one search result for “Talentless Hack”:



Adam’s Google Bomb may have been a joke, but since then the practice of Google Bombing has begun to spread throughout the blogging community. Which begs the question:

Why Do People Google Bomb?

Here at Microcontent News headquarters, we identified four top reasons why people bomb Google:

  1. Humor
  2. Ego
  3. Money
  4. Justice

Let’s take a look at each of these

1. Humor Bombs

Admit it… it’s pretty funny to see your friend come up in Google as the #1 Talentless Hack
in the whole world. Granted you have to find search keywords that don’t get a lot of traffic, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

2. Ego Bombs

It’s become fashionable to be the top search result for your first name (or barring that, your full name). David Gallagher – freelance writer for the New York Times – provided one such example on his personal blog:

I’ve decided that I want to be the most famous David Gallagher on the Internet, and if you have a Web site, you can help. How? Link to this site like so: David Gallagher.

As of March 1st, he’s ranked no 3 in Google… not too shabby, David.

3. Money Bombs

Of course, it’s only a matter of time before someone starts making Google Bombs for profit.

As far as we know, this has yet to come to pass… but once Money Bombs become a possibility, they pose a real threat to Google. Brig over at Eatonweb floated the idea just a few days ago:

02.27.02

reading why google loves weblogs, got me thinking about google bombing. specifically, in regard to keyword searches. take, for example, my dad. he would be in heaven if his site came up #1 on a search for santa cruz real estate. he would be willing to pay for that.

Brig, Microcontent News will Google Bomb your dad’s site for free: santa cruise real estate I’m not sure how much it will help though, as your dad is up against some tough competition: some 103K separate websites come up in Google when you search for “Santa Cruz Real Estate!”

Buying a Google Bomb is probably cheaper than buying a Google Adwords microad. But even if that price disparity disappears, it’s much better to be in Google’s main search results than somewhere in a side module. Given this reality, it’s inevitable that Money Bombs start appearing in the weblog community soon.

4. Justice Bombs

Justice Bombs can be tossed at evil corporations. The target then was Critical IP, a corporation accused with telemarketing to domain name owners by stealing phone numbers out of an Internet database.

In fact, several bloggers have built Justice Bombs after last week’s article… including Megan Mc Ardle. She was nauseated the other day to hear about the R Kelly videotape:

The other day, a radio station in New York that one of my co-workers listens to read a play-by-play of the R Kelly videotape. It is the first time I’ve ever been made actually nauseous by something I heard or watched. For those who aren’t aware of it, R Kelly is a musician who purchased the services of a 14-year old girl from her family and . . . no, I can’t go on. It makes me want to get sick just thinking about it.

Ordinarily, most people would feel helpless in this sort of situation. But armed with knowledge gleaned from last week’s Microcontent News, Megan proposed a Justice Bomb:

I have the following proposal. Let those of us in the Blogosphere post the following two links on our pages:
Daniel perl Videotape
R kelly Videotape


Several bloggers have already followed suit, and just a few days after the Justice Bomb was lit, five of the top ten results for R kelly video tape, are already weblogs with her Google Bomb. Go Megan!

Why Google Bombs are So Effective:

We went over the mechanics of Google Bombs Last we But why do so many weblogs participate in Google Bombing?

First and foremost, it’s fun. Google is an institution, and seeing your personal website pop up in a search result is exhilarating. We’ve watched Microcontent News become the second search result for google bombing(behind Adam’s essay inventing the concept), giving us some personal insight into the excitement of climbing the Google ranks.

Google Bombs also tap the natural human instinct for reciprocity: “you help me with my bomb, and I’ll help you with yours.” Most of the Google Bombing to date has been Ego Bombing anyway, which lends itself especially well to reciprocation.

Google Bombing also fulfills a fundamental need: a need for justice, and for a feeling of control over the uncontrollable. When Megan McArdle got upset over the R Kelly videotape, she was able to strike back with a Google Bomb. Now, there’s a good chance that someone searching for the videotape will read the message she’s written just for them:

There is a special circle in hell reserved for people who watch things like this. Do humanity a favor and either get some help or take yourself out of the game.

How to Make a Google Bomb

Adam published instructions in his original Google Bomb essay:

1. Get a web site. …

2. Whenever you update your site, … be sure to include [an HTML link to your target site. Make sure the text of the link is the search term you’d like to own]

3. Add your site to Google.

4. Wait for the magic to happen!

Defusing a Google Bomb

So far, all the Google Bombs we’ve seen have been built using Adam’s instructions.

Blogging a link (AKA “link-blogging”) as a Google Bomb can provide a powerful short term boost in Google rank… but as we saw last week with the Critical IP example, the Google Bomb drops in power over time. (The Google Bomb raced to the #1 search position for “Critical IP” within two days… but two weeks later, it was already down to #46, and falling.)

It’s clear that somehow Google was weighting the Google Bomb links less as they aged. This “temporal weighting” might be part of Google’s algorithm. Still, something about that doesn’t feel right – after all, isn’t most of the Google database made up of older links?

More likely, the defusing of Google Bombs is largely a consequence of blog posts scrolling off a weblog’s frontpage. Google almost certainly weights links more heavily if they’re on the frontpage of a site, rather than on an interior page. After a week (or a month, in some cases), most Google Bomb links have been moved to archive pages – and so bloggers inadvertently end up defusing their very own bombs.

A More Powerful Google Bomb

A new type of Google Bomb offers a way around this. It’s based on a blogging phenomenon named by Doc Searls in December 2000. We’re referring, of course, to blogrolling.

Blogrolling is a relatively new name to a very old tradition. Most websites have traditionally had a Links page, where the webmaster points to their favorite websites. Weblogs have carried on the tradition… but rather than have a separate page for their links, they typically have their favorite links on the side of their page. Thanks to Doc’s neologism, this “sidebar” section is increasingly called the “Blogrolling” section of a weblog.

Most importantly, a blogrolling link never scrolls off a weblog’s frontpage. This greatly magnifies the impact of a blogrolling link, making them a much more potent Google Bomb.

Blogrolling Google Bombs have yet to hit the weblog scene. When they do, they could become the next generation Google Bomb, with a much longer impact than link-blogging bombs.

The Staying Power of Google Bombs

Google can be foiled over the long run, as mapped out in this excellent essay on the Church of Scientology. As the author puts it:

[T]he Church of Scientology, a large corporate entity, has figured out how to exploit [Google’s algorithm] to their advantage by having large quantities of domains that are packed heavily with links to each other

In other words, this essay alleges that the Church has bought hundreds of domains and had them all point both to each other… and of course, to Scientology-friendly websites. It may not involve weblogs, but it sure sounds like a Google Bomb to us!

It should be noted that some bloggers are striking back at the Church with their own Google Bomb. They’ve achieved some short term success, getting operation Clambake- a site dedicated to debunking Scientology – up to #4 in the Google ranks.

While a valiant effort, I’m not convinced that this Google Bomb will defeat the bombs placed by the Church. After all, these bloggers are fighting blogrolling bombs with link-blogging bombs. Once the links scroll off their weblog frontpages, Operation Clambake should fall back in the Google rankings.

Implications for Google Bombs

If the Church of Scientology can foil Google, then Google Bombs – especially ones based on blogrolling – could potentially have a serious and long-term impact on Google rankings.

This has serious implications for the future of Google Bombs.

Watch out, Google!

One or two people linkblogging some Google Bombs isn’t going to make a big difference in Google ranks in the long term. But teams of people working together to blogroll Google Bombs could have a serious and long-term impact on Google rankings.

Sooner or later, these teams of people will emerge… and when they do, their collective power on Google will be staggering.

Google, you’d better start watching out for these “Bomb Squads.” Weblogs can help filter billions of webpages for you… but they could also help destroy the very technology that Google is based on!

The Emergence of Bomb Squads

Bomb Squads have yet to emerge, but all the ingredients are there.

One interesting development: a blogger has auctioned off a blogrolling link as a joke.

Tony Pierce, the blogger in question, posted his auction to eBay on February 22nd. His auction description is fun to read… but it’s easy to picture the same description applied less humorously to an actual Google Bomb auction:

Some people have morals, standards, ideals about quality when it comes to linking sites to their Blogs and websites, but I’m an American, I couldn’t care less.

145812. That’s how many hits I’ve gotten this month on my web site, http://www.tonypierce.com

I will link you on my Blog (http://www.tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm), way up high for one full month. I will also link you on my links page http://www.tonypierce.com/links.htm for an entire month in a prominent locale.

Tony’s auction closed last Friday night, topping out at $15.50.

Tony was just doing this for fun – and as weblogs gimmicks go, this one was particularly successful in driving his traffic up. But the stage has been set for real Google Bombs.

Google Bomb Squads in Real Life

I mentioned Brig’ about Google Bombs earlier… what I didn’t mention is that she posted something very much along these lines in her weblog:

02.27.02

reading google loves weblogs got me thinking about google bombing. specifically, in regard to keyword searches. take, for example, my dad. he would be in heaven if his site came up #1 on a search for santa cruz real estate. he would be willing to pay for that. someone needs to set up a google bomb service. weblogs sign up and reserve page space for the “google bomb link of the day”. the service then sells it to customers and divides up the earnings with the weblogs. interesting concept anyway.

Sounds like a Google Bomb Squad to me!

Impact of Google Bomb Squads on Weblogs

The emergence of a Google Bomb Squad system could solve a thorny problem for bloggers: how to make money off of their time-consuming hobby.

Getting search engines to send you traffic has become a big industry with cryptic acronyms (SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization) and fancy industry conferences. Joining a Google Bomb Squad could let bloggers tap what’s become a multi-million dollar industry. It could even make life easier for the SEO industry – after all, as Google’s become more popular, their usual bag of tricks has become less effective. Google Bombs and Bomb Squads could be the killer app that SEOs have been looking for.

Impact of Google Bomb Squads on Google

It’s clear that Google Bombs are incredibly effective at building traffic. What’s not so clear is what Google should do about it.

After all, a Google Bomb is extremely difficult to distinguish from a genuine link. Take our last Microcontent News article, for example. Just one day after its publication, it had already catapulted to the #1 search position for “Google Weblogs”. This is despite the fact that there are 40,000 weblogs that share those very same search terms. In this case, that’s a good thing: Google is giving Microcontent News credit for the dozens of links we received from the blogging community.

But how would Google know if all this linking had been a Google Bomb? Do they create an algorithm that defuses Google Bombs? Do they create a self-policing system to report sites that Google Bomb? Or do they – gasp! – ban people who sign up for Google Bomb Squads?

And what comprises a bannable Google Bomb?

For example, is it wrong to Google Bomb the Church of scientology or Critical IP? Is it more or less wrong to try and profit off of a Google Bomb? What exactly would comprise a offense worthy of Google excommunication?

At this point, it’s unclear. But Google has generated so much goodwill in the weblog community that any guidelines they issue will surely be taken into consideration by the blogging world. Google, let us know what’s right or wrong in the world of Google Bombs!

In the meantime, all your search belong to us. Somebody set up us the bomb!

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