The practice, known as “Googlebombing,” is the latest stunt in a longstanding cat-and-mouse game between Google and activists who have the technical savvy to influence search rankings.
In the current exploit, several posts on Reddit associating Trump’s name, photo and the word “idiot” received tens of thousands of upvotes, which Google uses as an important ranking signal. Media sources such as the Guardian, Fortune, The Hill and others writing about the story also influenced the placement of images in search results.
Often broadly referred to as Googlebombing, this manipulation of search results has a long history, with the most famous probably taking place in December 2003, where for a time a search for “miserable failure” brought up the official biography of then-president George W. Bush as the top result. This was the result a grassroots campaign to use links from around the web to the whitehouse.gov biography page with the words “miserable failure” as the anchor text.
Google took its time to fix the result, explaining in an official Google blog post: “Google’s search results are generated by computer programs that rank web pages in large part by examining the number and relative popularity of the sites that link to them. By using a practice called googlebombing, however, determined pranksters can occasionally produce odd results. We don’t condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we’re also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don’t affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.”
Interestingly, Bing search results do not appear to have been influenced by the manipulation efforts that have resulted in Google prominently featuring pictures of Trump in image search results.
Google has a history of fixing these exploits algorithmically, so it’s unlikely you’ll see these results much longer. Fili Wiese, a Search Engine Land author who spent years working within Google, helping to shape the company’s ranking algorithms and spam policies, said “They do have something that has probably not kicked in yet, and is likely to do so in the coming days. Not to worry, it will likely not work soon again.”
Want to learn more about Googlebombing and some of the crazy results that have cropped up over the years? Take a look at our Link Building: Google Bombs & Link Bombs archives.