Google Images Dominated By Pictures Of Romney For “Completely Wrong” Search

It’s not a Google Bomb, but that doesn’t make it less embarrassing for US presidential candidate Mitt Romney or Google, that a search on Google Images for “completely wrong” brings up results that are dominated by Romney’s picture.

Completely Wrong & Google Images

Here’s an example of what you currently see in a search for “completely wrong” on Google Images (you can click to enlarge):

It’s not clear when the results shifted this way. The Huffington Post notes that comedian Rob Delaney joked about them on “Thursday,” but that seems to be a typo. Delaney joked about them today — Wednesday — as you can see here.

The short answer as to what’s happening is that because the photos are all in legitimate news stories where Romney talks about being “completely wrong,” his image has been associated with those words. In a similar manner, a search for “debate fail” finds several images of President Barack Obama appearing, as there are images of him on pages with those words.

For the longer explanation on why this is happening, why it’s not technically a “Google Bomb” and some real Google Bombs and other search results with political oddities at Google, read on.

How Real Google Bombs Work

A Google Bomb is technically when someone tries to make a web page rank for a term that the page itself isn’t explicitly about, usually by encouraging others to link to the page using certain words in the links.

The classic example is how President George W. Bush found his official biography ranking for many years in searches for “miserable failure,” after a campaign encouraged people to link to the biography using “miserable failure” as the link text.

Google implemented a Google Bomb fix in 2007, as covered below:

Every so often, true Google Bombs continue to get past the fix. That’s because Google’s filter to check for such things isn’t constantly running. Instead, Google runs the Google Bomb filter (similar to other filters like “Penguin” used to fight search spam) on a periodic basis.

That’s how comedian Stephen Colbert managed to be Google Bombed into being the “Greatest Living American” on Google in April 2007 despite the Google Bomb fix, only to have that honor taken away a month later.

The articles below explain more about Colbert’s situation, as well as how the periodic nature of Google Bomb fix and other filters can impact Google’s search results:

Not A Google Bomb: Spreading Santorum

Complicating matters, there are things that people assume to be Google Bombs that aren’t, at least not technically. A classic example here is how a definition related to anal sex had ranked for years in a search for “santorum,” the last name of former presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

This wasn’t a Google Bomb because the Spreading Santorum site actually was explicitly (no pun intended) about “santorum,” just a different type of santorum. It wasn’t something that Google’s Google Bomb fix could solve, since that was intended to help prevent sites not about a particular topic from being “bombed” into relevancy for it.

Santorum did gain some relief when Google instituted a different fix, one that helped demote pages deemed to be adult in nature for searches that weren’t deemed adult.

Today, the sex definition still appears in Google’s top results for a search on “santorum,” but it no longer occupies the number one spot. That remains the case at Bing, which also highlights the fact many things that are often assumed to be some Google oddity happen with other search engines, as well.

Our stories below have more about the Santorum situation:

Michelle Obama & Google Images

The examples above are all relating to listings with Google web search. Today’s news is all about what’s happening with Google Images listings. There, politics and supposed Google Bombs have collided before.

In November 2009, a hateful image of Michelle Obama’s face changed to resemble a monkey appeared in Google Images, in response to searches for “michelle obama.” It was removed, because Google said the image led to a site serving malware, a violation of Google’s guidelines.

The image quickly reappeared, as it began being hosted on sites that were not associated with malware. Google made no change, because it’s not Google’s policy to remove specific results that people might find offensive. It has a long history of not intervening in such cases.

Instead, Google ran an ad leading to a standing page that explains why offensive results sometimes appear (it did a similar thing for the “miserable failure” search above but never felt the need to do so in relation to “santorum” searches).

Last year, we noticed that searches for “michelle obama” no longer brought up images designed to make the First Lady resemble a monkey (they exist in Google Images, but only if you do a specific search like “michelle obama monkey face.”).

What happened? Google told us that Google Images had been changed overall somehow to do a better job identifying authoritative images for searches on individuals.

For more background on all of this, see our previous posts:

Romney’s First “Google Bomb”

Romney had his first assumed Google Bomb in February, when a new “Spreading Romney” site appeared. The site highlighted the story of Romney having driven with his dog in a carrier atop his car for 12 hours in 1983. The dog apparently didn’t enjoy the ride, got diarrhea, which trickled down onto the car itself.

Soon after the site was created, it started appearing in the top results at Google. A Google Bomb? No, because again, a Google Bomb is when a site ranks for a topic that it’s not explicitly relevant for, often as a result especially of trying to get people to link to the site with certain words. Spreading Romney was indeed about Romney, at least in one way.

Rather than a linking campaign, the site seemed to be doing well because it was new and fresh, something that can give sites a temporary boost in both Google and Bing. And it did rank in both search engines. Today, no longer as timely, it no longer ranks in the top results for “romney” with either of them.

The stories below have more about the Romney situation:

The “Completely Wrong” Google Bomb

That leads to the latest Google Bomb that isn’t a Google Bomb, a search on Google Images that brings up results dominated by Romney’s picture, as illustrated above. Google told Slate this isn’t something it intentionally did:

A Google spokesman confirms that this is not an intentional “Google bomb.” The search results for “completely wrong” are the natural result of a flurry of recent news articles associating Romney with the phrase.

Google’s confirmed the same to me directly, that there was nothing intentional here. As for the explanation, that seems mostly correct. Again, it’s not a Google Bomb, in that there’s no evidence anyone was overtly trying to get any of these pictures to rank highly for the search “completely wrong.” Moreover, the pictures are all indeed relevant to the topic.

But they’re a “natural result” more because Google Images seems to give some weight to images that are fresh, for certain queries, over images that are older.

Let’s break it down. Look again at some of the top images being shown:

Notice how so many of them have a time stamp on them, such as “4 days ago” or “14 hours ago.” Google is clearly giving a boost to some images based on how fresh they are. Do a search for other news topics, such as “space x” or “big bird,” and you can see other examples of this.

Then again, searches for topics like “romney” or “obama” aren’t dominated by fresh images, which suggests that this is a ranking factor that Google Images especially depends on for more obscure searches.

Exactly when and why the freshness factor kicks in isn’t clear, but what is clear is that these pictures are all ranking because they are relevant for the words “completely wrong.” See the two images I pointed to above with arrows? Let’s go to the sources of those:

In both cases, you can see that pictures come from news articles that are about Romney saying he was “completely wrong” in suggesting that 47% of Americans wouldn’t want to vote for him because they pay no income taxes.

Words on a page, especially those in close proximity to a picture, get associated with pictures on a page to help images search engines know what images are about.

This is long how image search engines have worked, because for the most part, they really don’t know what a picture is “about.” A picture might be worth 1,000 words to a human, but to a search engine, pictures are really a blur of colors, sizes and rough shapes.

Over on Bing, you can see the same thing happening, but to a lesser degree, probably because Bing doesn’t factor freshness in as much:

There you have it. That’s how images on Google and Bing arguably are completely right for completely wrong. And while it’s not a technical Google Bomb, it certainly fits the increasingly more popular definition of a Google Bomb being something strange or unusual that happens on Google.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Link Building: Link Bombs | Top News


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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  • James Norquay

    A win for Bing, well kind of hehe, but overall something that Google should look at fixing imo.

  • kristiyan katsarov

    Google goes down or what? But I think it’s cool! :)

  • ConnorMarc

    This seems natural. Just a bad coincidence for Mitt.

  • Olog-hai

    “Exactly when and why the freshness factor kicks in isn’t clear”

    For what it’s worth, just about every Google Image search for Google Hot Trends (it looks like they’re calling this service “hot searches” these days) entries that are less than about 7 days old have the time stamps. I’m sure there are other criteria.


  • James Barker

    Articles such as this might strengthen the association between “completely wrong” and Romney. So these images results may well continue after the initial interest / freshness has died down!

  • Shaad Hamid

    Danny, I’m pretty certain you intended that pun :-P

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    what do you mean google goes down? Google has done just what it should do, show relevant images for the content/text of pages imo

  • kristiyan katsarov

    According to the pictures, Bing’s image search is better…

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    I wouldn’t agree on that, it would depend on what you call better! Google are simply displaying images related to that search term which are current, but if you continue down to page 2 and beyond the images become more random etc.

    Bing on the other hand are show more images which are aged, so both are right IMO, as for which is better, like I said that would depend what your searching for wouldn’t it

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    Another angle to look at it from would be an image search for a movie, for example say you search for “total recall”, google may decide that images from the new movie are more relevant, where as bing may decide images from the old movie are more relevant.

    So looking at it from that point of view, both are correct and which is better is in the eyes of the viewer/searcher. See where I’m coming from now?

  • imageworks

    hey i also just wrote about this on our blog at As SEO’s we can learn a lot about queries that deserve freshness when it comes to phenominons like this

  • Connie Neagle

    A good reason not to use them.

  • Connie Neagle

    You people are just nasty, in every sense of the word

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