What Is Googlebombing?
The President of the US has been Googlebombed
Back in December 2018, you may have seen in the news that searching for the term “idiot” on Google would lead you to pictures of President Trump. The word "idiot" was searched over 1 million times in the span of a couple of days, as people rushed to see the viral phenomenon for themselves. But why would Google return pictures of Donald Trump when the word "idiot" is what’s being searched for? Is Google politically biased? The answer does not lie with Google’s political bias, but with human opinions, and a flaw in Google’s algorithm.
What is Googlebombing?
Googlebombing is a practice where a website is made to rank highly for off topic or unrelated search terms, by using enormous amounts of links with anchor text containing the search term. Anchor text is the text that you can read when you see a link, like the word link in this sentence highlighted in orange. Because a lot of people are linking to a page with a particular phrase, gullible Google believes that that phrase is relevant to that page, and gives it a higher priority on the SERP, or search engine result page.
For the Trump idiot googlebomb, users of Reddit posted articles en masse about Trump with his picture, and included idiot in their titles and descriptions. Google picked up on this trend, and now many of the top images in Google Image Search are of Donald Trump, smiling for the camera with no awareness that he is being mocked.
The History of Googlebombs
Googlebombing is not a new thing. Back in 1999, internet pranksters made Microsoft the number one result for “more evil than Satan himself”, in the first Googlebombing in history. Many other joke googlebombs have occurred since then, including making Stephen Colbert “the greatest American man”.
Donald Trump is not the only American president to have been googlebombed. George W. Bush had his biography linked to the term “miserable failure“ in 2003. Other terms that linked to his biography include “worst president ever” and “best president“, showing that googlebombing can be performed by both sides.
Sometimes, googlebombing can have a positive effect. At one point, searching for “Jew” would return an anti-Semetic neonazi’s website. Activists googlebombed that term so that the Wikipedia article for Judaism appeared at the top instead, removing the hatespeech-filled page from its number one spot. Nowadays, Google deindexes content with hatespeech from its search engine, so hopefully googlebombing will never be needed in this way again.
Googlebombing is Harmful to Search Engines
Googlebombing is the opposite of SEO, or search engine optimization. SEO is a practice where you try to rank on Google for terms that are clearly relevant to your content. Content creators want readers to be able to find what they need when they are searching for a specific term, and ideally they’d want their content to be the most helpful.
When a search term is googlebombed, it pushes helpful results further down on the search page, making them harder to find. Some people use this as a strategy to get rid of the competition, which is something that Google wants to prevent because it is not genuine or fair.
Googlebombing is done as a joke, such as linking to a fake search result page (Googling Chuck Norris used to send the user to a page that said “You don’t find Chuck Norris, Chuck Norris finds you) or as a personal attack, ranking individuals at the top of the list for negative terms like in this example.
People use googlebombing to prove a point, but it is not helpful for the people who may genuinely need information, and may also hurt content creators that are trying to use good SEO. Search engines should be focused on providing factual, unbiased information and googlebombing adds human bias to something that should be objective.
What Can Google Do to Prevent Googlebombing in the Future?
To prevent googlebombing in the future, Google might want to make sure that things that are suddenly trending do not come from only one source. The Trump idiot googlebomb came entirely from Reddit, for example. Also, if links for one term are suddenly skyrocketing, the humans at Google should check and see why. It is important to make sure that the keywords something is ranking for are present in the content and relevant to it. To really have our search engines optimized, we need the effect of googlebombing to be minimized.
Keep Google Unbiased or Google May Become Biased... Against Us!
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© 2018 Melissa Clason