Google Says Stephen Colbert Is No Longer The Greatest Living American

Stephen Colbert: Rejected By Google

Sadness, Colbert fans! Last month, I reported in Google Declares Stephen Colbert As Greatest Living American how Stephen Colbert had defied Google’s link bombing defenses and rose to be the greatest living American, according to a search for those words at Google. Today, it is no longer so. Google has dissed Colbert.

Google Drops The Bomb: Hand Job or Chron Job? from Jonah Stein over at Alchemist Media, who orchestrated the initial Colbert victory, notes the disappearance.

When Colbert initially ranked, I’d written how odd it was that Colbert was ranking well for terms that didn’t show up on his web page, since Google supposedly put measures in place (see Google Kills Bush’s Miserable Failure Search & Other Google) back in January to prevent Google bombs like this from happening:

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.

Google never explained how Colbert got around the link bomb fix. Now it seems like they’ve either manually made an adjustment — a “hand job” as SEOs like to call it — or made an algorithm change. Since Google routinely denies doing hand jobs, I assume the official response (I’ll try to get one) will be an algo change [now added; see postscript below].

For the record, Colbert remains ranked fifth on Yahoo, first on and still ignored by, for searches on “greatest living american,” when looking at the first page of results.

Postscript: Google search evangelist Adam Lasnik sent this official response:

Our effort to defuse Googlebombs continues to be purely algorithmic. We do not make manual changes. We prefer to tune these algorithms to avoid all false positives in exchange for less immediacy and slightly less thoroughness in catching all Googlebombs.

I asked for more clarification on the last part, whether this means Google knew the link bomb fix wouldn’t catch everything but didn’t want filters so tight that they might exclude helpful uses of anchor text. Adam sent:

Correct. We don’t want to impact situations with search results that may be associated with, say, breaking news events… things that have nothing to do with groups of folks (however playfully) attempting to game search results.

And Vanessa Fox from Google Webmaster Central sent:

We know the algorithm isn’t 100% perfect and as new Googlebombs pop up over time, we tune the algorithm to better catch them.

She also added:

Of course, I personally think he’s the greatest living American, but Stephen himself is a champion of democracy, and I’m sure his support of it reaches to the interweb. ;)

Postscript 2: Per Google’s Matt Cutts, in comments below:

It’s not a manual change; it’s just a fresh push of our Googlebomb data. The algorithm doesn’t run every day.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: Link Bombs


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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  • Lucky Lester

    As the greatest living American shouldn’t Mr Colbert naturally rank #1 on Google?

  • Halfdeck

    The site still ranks #1 for “living american”, #8 for “greatest american”, and #1 for “living greatest.”

  • Halfdeck

    In fact, he still ranks #1 for “american living greatest.” :)

  • randfish

    This feels so artificial, it’s surprising. I would have thought Google wouldn’t engage in this kind of thing… I’m having trouble deducing the intent of the move.

  • Michael Martinez

    Don’t complain too loudly, Danny. SearchEngineLand pages get into the Main Web Index in less than 5 hours, whereas CNN and other major news media sites have to wait at least a day.

    Conspiracy theorists might conclude that someone at Google may be giving you a little Web search love.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Actually, Michael, plenty of news and other sites get into the main index quickly. That’s part of Google’s fresh crawling.

    For example, here:

    That page was posted at noon Eastern time. I’m looking now around 8pm Eastern, and I see it in a search here.

    Here’s a search where you can see a story written just before 5pm Eastern is showing up 3 hours later.

    We are included in Google News, so that’s the main reason you’d see us showing up. We got in about a month after we launched, after I filled out a little form on the Google News site, explaining why I thought we’d be a good fit for inclusion. Guess Google agreed. Filled out the same form for Yahoo, by the way. Yahoo News still doesn’t include us. We continue to hope.

  • graywolf

    he also ranks for [Living greatest american] and [greatest american living].

    I hope by algorithmic they don’t mean

    if($query == “greatest living american”){ “” = false;}

  • Matt Cutts

    Here’s what I said over at digg: “it’s not a manual change; it’s just a fresh push of our Googlebomb data. The algorithm doesn’t run every day.”

    Not that you need me to stop by, since Adam and Vanessa have already weighed in. :)

  • Jonah Stein


    Thanks for confirming that the bomb was defused by a process that doesn’t run all the time.

    While the answers from Adam and Vanessa say something slightly different (algorithm tweak isn’t the same as a fresh push of data) we can all understand this being a chron job.

    At least the story has a happy ending.


  • Brandon Wirtz is the Greatest Living American

    No Mention of me? I was number 2 prior to the change and Am now Number one. Colbernation had no mention of the words Greatest Living American when they took the number one spot, so many people thought Google was playing along the other way. Is it that hard to believe that with my Paltry 85 links that I acheived more than Rand Fishkin, and Joe Griffin with their several thousand? Colbert has something like 500k at last check. It Screams Google Bomb. I was the only person trying who actually optimized my page an strategically chose links.

    This article was carefully written to not Mention who was in first. Likely to keep me from gaining a legitimate link.

    I still have tricks up my sleeve.
    -Brandon Wirtz

  • Danny Sullivan

    Brandon, the article wasn’t carefully written to avoid mentioning you. You weren’t mentioned because, well, you’re not Stephen Colbert. Sorry to break this news to you :)

    It’s not hard to believe you are ranking tops. I believe you are the only other person who has tried to overtly rank tops for that term, by asking people to link to you that way. Rand did NOT ask for links to his sites. He asked for links to the Colbert site. And as you, as well as my article, note — Colbert would be in the tops if those words were on the’s home page.

    As for paltry 85 links, Yahoo reports that at 174. Google probably has this many if not more if you log into the Google Webmaster Central system rather than use the public reporting tool.

    Still, that’s far less than the 56,000 links Yahoo reports to the ColbertNation home page. However, it’s not just the number of links — it’s the anchor text of those links (a href=””>Google Now Reporting Anchor Text Phrases explains more about this).

    You and Joe (he’s got 25 links) are working some good anchor text, but it also suggests that if some other people using the words “greatest living american” on their pages were to gain more links, you’d start to drop.

    Maybe not, of course. Being the first to really play hard to go after this game, you’ve become uniquely relevant for the term. You might hang in there.

  • Nick Wilsdon

    >if($query == “greatest living american”){ “” = false;}

    That’s brilliant Michael – can we get that on a t-shirt somewhere? ;)

  • Acharya S

    Sometimes Google is just no fun at all! I personally enjoy Google bombs – what will we do without them?

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