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].
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.