Thursday, May 13, 2010

Technology Lesson: Google Bomb

A Google bomb (sometimes called Googlewashing) is when people exploit Internet searches to move a Web site to the top of a Web search result in hopes of obtaining more exposure or page views. It can be used as a verb or noun. Google bomb was added to the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005. The tome's definition:
google bombing n. the activity of designing Internet links that will bias search engine results so as to create an inaccurate impression of the search target.
For example, if I wanted Lessons for Old People to top the search result for John Mayer is a Tool, I would Google bomb. (But I wouldn't! Because that would be dishonest. I'm almost a little lazy.)

Google bombing is often used for political purposes. In 2003, searching for "miserable failure" and clicking "I'm Feeling Lucky" on Google's home page would take the searcher to George W. Bush's bio on the White House Web page:

Other pages about Bush, and, would also appear on the first page of search results, even though both pages lack the phrase "miserable failure." ( was Google bombed in an effort to fight the Bush page. Other liberal figures were also Google bombed.) explains why it worked:

Although Google's exact algorithms for ranking search results are a mystery, we do know that PageRank plays a roll. Google's search engine tends to think that the words used in the link to a particular source reflect some of the content of the source. If many people link to an article using a particular phrase, such as "using Google effectively," Google will assume that "using Google effectively" is related to the content of the page, even if that particular phrase isn't used within the page itself.

To make the Bush Google bomb, enough people just had to create a hyperlink from the phrase "miserable failure."

Another famous Google bomb is this result from seeking "weapons of mass destruction", a link to Super Size Me from seeking McDonald's, and Stephen Colbert's site Colbert Nation from "giant brass balls" and "greatest living American."

Google never favored the practice, and in 2007, announced that the algorithm had been modified to remove all bombs. Of course, bombs have returned. Following President Barack Obama's election, his page was the result for "cheerful achievement." Last November a racist caricature accompanied results in a search for "Michelle Obama" (part of its stronghold was that it became a news story). Google apologized that a bunch of racists had Google bombed, but didn't remove the offending result. The company said it didn't want to appear that it made decisions in what is seen in a search result (Google has taken this stance in the past as well).

Other political and humor-based bombs are sure to pop up in the future. Now that you know what they are, you'll (hopefully) have a better understanding when that occurs.

Additional Resources:
Google bomb, Wikipedia
Google Bombs Explained,
Google bombs get dismantled, Cnet
New President, New Googlebomb: “Cheerful Achievement”, Mashable
Inside the Michelle Obama image fight: why Google won't tweak results, The Guardian
Google Explains Racist Search Results, Jezebel
Google and Google Bombing Now Included New Oxford American Dictionary, Search Engine Watch
Cannot find Weapons of Mass Destruction

A New Googlebomb: Cheerful Achievement, Google Blogoscoped
An explanation of our search results.

Culture Lesson: Photobombing

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