Google Declares Stephen Colbert As Greatest Living American

Stephen Colbert - Greatest Living American

It’s official. Stephen Colbert is the Greatest Living American, or at least now ranks tops for that phrase at Google. It’s all come from the latest Google bombing campaign sparked off in part by Stephen himself. The backstory on this, plus the “I thought Google bombing didn’t work anymore” angle, all below.

Jonah Stein from Alchemist Media raised the issue of Google-bombing during the audience Q&A with Mr. Colbert at a taping of his show (out of respect, I use the Mr. honorific. So say we all). What would Mr. Colbert like to rank for?

Giant Brass Balls.

Sure, Jonah thought — but why not also truthiness and most important, Greatest Living American, he wrote at the Alchemist Blog. Search Engine Watch spread the news. SEOmoz spread it further, complete with more detailed instructions and a bribe.

Today, we spotted noting he was now ranking for the term. Congrats, Mr. Colbert. We salute you.

OK, specifically looking at first page of search results:

I’ll drill deep on the most important phrase, Greatest Living American. Both Jonah and Rand told people to link to the “Letter From Stephen” page here, like this:

Greatest Living American

But it’s not that page which is ranking on Google. It’s the home page. And that brings us to the entire wasn’t Google bombing killed thing?

The change Google made back in January was designed to stop pages ranking for terms if a lot of people linked to them using those terms but the pages themselves didn’t use the words. Everyone want to call George W. Bush a miserable failure? His page no longer ranks for that since the page itself doesn’t use those words. OK, so it did just rank again recently, due to the White House using one of them. But the word is gone now – and the page has dropped back down in the rankings.

The Colbert Report’s home page uses NONE of the words (because Stephen, who is modest, has no need to declare himself the greatest). Here’s Google confirming that the site ranks for that term solely based on links to it:

Stephen Colbert Cached Page

See the part at the bottom: “These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: greatest living american.”

So what’s the deal? Wasn’t the Google fix supposed to prevent this exact thing?

Yes, actually. Of course, we’ve had a few exceptions cited, such click here ranking things like Adobe and Apple downloads. Maybe Google’s Matt Cutts will come along to shed some more light on the situation. I suspect the answer will be that the link bomb fix Google uses is more sophisticated than just looking to see if the words people are using in links, when a lot of links suddenly point at a page, actually appear on a page.

Postscript: Mission Accomplished—Top Ranking in Google is a hilarious congrats on the effort to all who made Mr. Colbert’s victory possible.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: Link Bombs | Search & Society: General


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Mr. Flitch


    One reason for this Google-bombing campaign’s success is that Google’s defenses are geared toward spam, not bacon.

  • graywolf

    I’m of the opinion Google’s including a bit of language interpretation. Negative words like “miserable” and “failure” are treated differently. I suspect a campaign for “greatest American failure” would have been less successful.

  • feedthebot

    Stephen was the greatest living American way before Google declared it, I for one am pleased that Google has finally caught up to reality.

  • Rhea

    I agree with feedthebot, Colbert has giant brass balls and is the greatest living American, so is it really a case of Google bombing or finally catching on to a well-known fact? ;)

  • Jonah Stein


    Thanks for the coverage of the story. I am glad you enjoyed the Mission Accomplish post, although I doubt I will succeed in getting 1700 Diggs for it.

    Actually, getting Colbert tickets is fairly easy, I just emailed a request in in January for the April show. Meanwhile, SES had a speaker from Comedy Central, so I am sure he can hook you up.

    I am not sure if I am still welcome at the Report, but I will definitely be happy to offer you a ticket next year if I can get them. I can’t imagine that resent all the traffic, but apparently some of the execs are uneasy about Viral campaigns for Mr. Colbert. Still, he gave me permission first.



  • Danny Sullivan

    I’m sure they love the traffic, Jonah — and the attention, for Mr. Colbert deserves it. Then again, Colbert Nation has been down now for over 12 hours as his many fans from Digg have apparently swarmed to the web site. Let us hope that the world won’t be deprived of the site for much longer.

  • manny hernandez

    Actually, Danny: as of this morning, the cached version I was getting for Colbert’s HP contained “living” and his letter contained “American”. Still it sounds like a bit of a stretch.

    Maybe Google loves Colbert too much! :)

  • Jonah Stein

    RE: Manny Hernandez:

    I originally targeted the “letter from Stephen” page and the “Balls For Kidz” pages for the campaign in an attempt to get around the anti-bombing changes.

    What Mr. Sullivan is pointing out here is that Google chose to rank the homepage first and the target pages below for “greatest living american” while they rank the balls for kidz page for giant brass balls. This is diagnostically very interesting for SEO types because one page has the words and the other doesn’t.

    I wonder how much traffic this campaign has sent ColbertNation total. Google blog search indicates 17,972 posts in the last 8 days contain “greatest living american” versus 3,205 for “giant brass balls”.

    My original digg sent about 26,000 people to one of my blogs before the campaign even hit Search Engine Watch.

    After we started to get some momentum, I decided to run adwords to judge the impact. I have seen 27,600 impressions on my adwords campaign for “greatest living american” in the last 7 days and searches in the last week. I got another 4074 on “giant brass balls” before Google decided my quality score was too low and that I would need to spend $10/click to keep it active. That’s too much to pay for data!

    And more fun than I have had for weeks!!


    PS, ColbertNation seems to go down fairly regularly even without the diggs. It’s amazing how little Viacom seems to understand the web!

  • Joe Griffin

    If we all say he is the greatest living american then why shouldn’t he rank #1. Seems like if a hundred people say he’s the man, then the man he is.

  • philski

    i only picked up on this today, Great effort to rank the site so fast,
    Mr Colbert is, well,, apart from a nice guy,

    no1 -greatest living
    no1 living American
    no4 -American living
    no9 -Greatest American
    no10 -living greatest
    22nd – american greatest

    I just wish i had shares in on it,, on alexadex

    Kindest Regards

  • Hammer

    I found this idea so interesting I decided to conduct a little experiment to see if my readers could get me to the top of Google as the ‘world’s smartest man’.

    So far I’ve bounced back and forth from #2 to #3, but I’m still having trouble cracking Stephen Hawking. lol

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