How Rick Santorum Is Making His “Google Problem” Worse

US Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made a surprise leap ahead to practically tie Mitt Romney in yesterday’s Iowa caucus results. Now people are searching to find out more about him and discovering THAT result which makes comedy show hosts like Jon Stewart giggle. But rather than blame Google (or Bing), as Santorum has in the past, much of the fault remains with his own campaign.

Searching For Santorum

Here’s how Google Trends currently looks:

The arrow shows how searches for “rick santorum” are now that second most “hot searches” happening, searches that are occurring far out of the ordinary. Clearly, people are trying to learn more about Santorum. What do they find?

The first link that the first arrow points at leads to Santorum’s official campaign site — or what should be his official campaign site, but I’ll get back to that.

The second arrow points to the now infamous web site that defines the word “santorum” as the byproduct of anal sex, as we’ve covered in detail in our previous story Should Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem” Be Fixed?

The same thing also happens at Bing:

The good news for Santorum is that he ranks at the top for a search on his own name at both search engines, which hasn’t always been the case, to my knowledge. The bad news is anyone searching for him simply by his last name still will find the anal sex definition coming first.

Missing On Bing

Indeed, on Bing, the definition comes first and Santorum’s official campaign site doesn’t make the top results at all:

Below The Fold On Google

Over at Google, the definition also ranks top for a search on santorum, but at least Santorum’s official site shows. Twice. And that’s part of Santorum’s problem:

The Santorum Donation Page

Notice the lower arrows linked together. One points at the RickSantorum.com site; the other at donation page run by the Santorum campaign hosted on Transaxt.com. Here’s how that second page looks:

It’s a big, giant donation form, paid for by the Santorum campaign. It doesn’t provide any further information about the candidate, who he is, his background, policy ideas and so on unless you click on the “http://support.ricksantorum.com” link near the top, which isn’t actually a great call-to-action to learn more.

Santorum Removes His Own Site From Google

Surely his official RickSantorum.com site listed in the top results is better, though? Nope. You see, that entire site has been effectively taken down. If you click to ANY page where that site used to be, say one of the over 400 pages that Google still believes exists:

All of those pages just lead back to the donation page. Want to volunteer for Rick Santorum? If you search for that phrase, you’ll get a page from his campaign site promising to tell you how:

But click on that page, and you’re back to the unhelpful donation page.

To Rank Top, You Need Something To Rank

One of the problems Santorum has had in ranking tops for a search on just his last name is that until relatively recently, he didn’t maintain his own dedicated web site about himself, a place independent of his elected office where those who wanted to know about Rick Santorum could discover more.

His campaign web site has helped, but by dropping the web site and pointing everything over to the donation form, it’s as if the Santorum campaign has taken all the “votes” its earned over the past few months and tossed them all away.

The Support.RickSantorum.com site seems to be the new location for all the content that was in the old site. Potentially, someone thought that by launching that new site, they might be able to get both it and the campaign page showing up in Google’s top results, perhaps in hopes of pushing the anal sex definition down or out.

That’s extremely unlikely to happen, even more so now than ever. Given that Santorum hasn’t suddenly embraced concepts like gay marriage, his rise as a candidate is only going to further focus attention from some on his views toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. That protest site becomes more relevant than ever.

Hide-And-Seek Doesn’t Help

But at this point, Santorum’s greater attention now as a leading presidential candidate (for as long as that lasts, given how quickly Republican front-runners get cast aside at the moment), really means that his official campaign web site ought to be ranking at the top of Google and Bing. It’s relevant for it to do so, for most searchers, I’d say.

But the search engines can really only do so much. Santorum’s site isnt following any of the SEO best practices that the search engines would recommend. It is literally playing hide-and-seek with them.

Maybe A Google Notice?

One thing I would like to see Google do. When you search for some things like jew, you’ll get a notice from Google like this:

It’s something Google does in cases where a lot of people might wonder why they’re showing odd and possibly offensive results in response to a search, as happened in the past with the “monkey face” image search results for Michelle Obama.

The “santorum” search certainly falls into this category, and this type of ad notice is probably overdue, even if Santorum’s disappearing web site is making matters worse.

Now go watch the latest giggle from Jon Stewart over the Santorum search results, from last night:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2012 – Romspringa – Rick Santorum’s Surge
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

And hey, Jon, I had that joke about the candidates being like a box of chocolates first :)

Postscript (5:45 ET): Only four hours after this story went up, the Santorum campaign now seems to be reacting. The redirections from www.ricksantorum.com to the donation page have stopped, though I find the occasional redirection error still happens, as you can see below:

However, even with the redirection turned off, there’s a different issues. The support.ricksantorum.com site that was created continues to run with all the same content as with www.ricksantorum.com. For example:

Those are two different URLs, on two different Santorum campaign sites, that lead to exactly the same content. That creates another issue for the Santorum campaign, one known as duplicate content.

Duplicate content can cause Google or Bing not to know which page it should list in response to a search. It also means that people who want to effectively “vote” for a page by linking to it, which helps ensure a page may rank well, are being asked to split their vote.

To put it in election terms the Santorum campaign can understand, it’s as if Rick Santorum has cloned himself, hoping to win an election on Google but failing to succeed because he’s splitting the total Santorum vote between two different Santorum candidates.

Finally, another explanation for the mess might be that the campaign simply wasn’t prepared with a web site that could withstand much traffic. It tweeted today:

Although the URL says ricksantorum.com, it actually leads to the aforementioned donation page, because the redirection was put in place after the regular URL was tweeted.

Related Stories

Postscript: There have been many updates to this story. See our Santorum’s Google Problem category for the latest articles.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Search & Society: General | Search & Society: Santorum Google Problem | Top News

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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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  • ensignsj

    Unreal. How could they make a mistake like that? I agree that Google should step in on this one, but you’d think they’d be looking for ways to help themselves. Even some paid search on the name might be a good idea.

  • http://www.seoautomatic.com Scott Hendison

    You took the blog post right out of my mouth, Danny – and It’s a recent change too, with some mid December . cache dates remaining in the index… But my version of the post also MIGHT have included “How @dannysullivan is making Santorums problem worse” by pointing out your followed links to his undesirable serps too – #justsayin ;)

    PS – the Captcha is either really hard or it’s time for a new monitor? Eyes?

  • http://www.rubenstein.com Nataliya Yakushev

    In addition to fixing his website and making it SEO compliant, he could easily expand his blended search presence – really surprised his image and video search results are not on the first page. But agree with Danny – no excuse of not optimizing the site.

  • Jay Davis

    Of course–even with Google execs so outspoken in support of Obama–there’s just no way that Google would “game the system”. Why would I even think this?

  • http://flypatterns.org Rob Woods

    For Pete’s sake! He’s trying to become one of the most powerful people in the world and manage a country. Does no one on his team have the smarts or ability to just go out, take a few of the millions in contribution dollars he’s received, and hire a decent online marketer? It doesn’t speak very well to their ability to run an administration. Go hire an expert or two and then do what they tell you.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Jay, arguably pro-Obama Google (and yes, I’d agree that the company as well as its employees mostly favor him), did a huge favor to “game” the system to help the Republicans and President George W. Bush in particular with a “googlebomb” fix a few years ago:

    http://searchengineland.com/google-kills-bushs-miserable-failure-search-other-google-bombs-10363

  • http://zoomspring.com jgodbey

    He wants to run a country… but he can’t run a website.. Don’t you think there will be more complicated problems he’ll need to face in the future?

  • http://www.xzito.com j3shua

    Danny,
    What can he do in regards to his last name, “Santorum” showing information that could impact his image and campaign? JZ

  • neil klopfenstein

    Google, a public corporation, should step in and bend their rules on behalf of a candidate for political office? Not bloody likely.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    j3shua, the most effective thing he could do would be to recant his remarks about gays. it is those remarks, and those views, that have already impacted his image and his campaign.

    Aside from that, nothing he does is going to knock that site out of the top results. He might not like it, but it is a relevant site for the word “santorum.”

  • http://www.xzito.com j3shua

    Danny,
    The post caused some curiosity, hence why I posted, have not been following what he has said or not said, but the question came up, what if one of my clients has a similar problem where someone creates a site that is getting ranking and is hurting their brand. The only thing that came to mind is potentially report it as Objectionable Content directly to Google.

    https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport?hl=en&pli=1

  • S.V.

    The political battle has extended to the online discussions and acrimony. And no forum, discussion board is free from it. The “volunteers” are using different avenues including the crowd sourcing platforms like minifreelance to support their candidate.

  • Majon

    Hello @ensignsj, How could they make a mistake like that? means you wanna to say Google always right? No I may disagree with you.

  • danielmilstein

    That is so true, Danny. Directing to the donation form is indeed a very bad move. It is kind of odd if you really think about it. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is that a lot of people still get into the duplicate content mess in their online strategy. That sure does effect a lot especially if you are working getting the search rankings right.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikegracen Mike Gracen

    @jgodbey Bingo. If Santorum can’t manage to correct an issue with his website after how many years, how in the %^&* can anyone take this guy seriously as a Presidential candidate? Next!

  • http://www.seosorcery.org Erin Monda

    First of all, the fecal site is actually a respectable interpretation of Rick Santorum and his policies. It should probably rank number one, not number three.

    Secondly, the spreadingsantorum.com site is actually an optimized site with an agenda. A lot of people out there — especially on the Internet — think that Rick Santorum stinks. So they made that site.

    Too bad they optimized it for “Santorum” and not the entire phrase.

    Hoping someone rectifies this ;)

  • G.D.

    If you read the various newspaper headlines and articles coming out in recent weeks, there’s a ton (and I mean a ton) of subtle references to Santorum in this manner. It’s quite humorous to look for this actually.

  • ML Hayes

    This site is all about the technology and the technique. Rick Santorum’s SEO goofs make good fodder for these subjects.

  • http://luxury-homes-bahamas.com/ Glenn Ferguson

    This is crazy but its one of those things that easily happens with English words- their multiple meanings.

  • http://seo-website-designer.com Tony

    Here in Australia their own website has been pushed down by all the media websites….and this article :-)

    You better hope he hires you or doesn’t become president.

    It’s got to be good publicity for you and your author profile pic, as long as you don’t get associated with the wrong Santorum!

  • B.B.

    I am no fan of Santorum but are all you critics that far out of the loop. The guy only spent $30,000 in Iowa on advertising. I doubt he invested much in his website or website SEO when he was going around the state in some guy’s truck trying to drum up support. Personally, that would be the first thing I would have invested in but not everyone knows the power of Google especially long shots for President.

  • R.S.

    Here’s how else Santorum is making the “problem” worse: Every time he goes out of his way to make blatantly anti-gay comments, he fires up more folks to click on and link to the “Spreading Santorum” site. That’s what got him into this squishy brown mess in the first place: By gratuitously maligning gay and lesbian people for political gain. As long as he keeps buying bigoted votes that way, he will pay the Google price–and rightly so.

  • TMay

    Interesting that in the entire article by Danny Sullivan he did not mention the name of the person who did this intentionally to Rick Santorum running in the GOP primary in the hopes of being elected president of the USA. Why is that? If Danny Sullivan wrote the article, he knows the story. I question the motive of the writer to write this story and leave that out. Dan Savage did it to Rick Santorum. Google it. Dan Savage is proud of his behavior. Frankly I would like to see someone do to Dan Savage what he did to Santorum. It would not be hard for a computer person. It would bring karma full circle: what you do to someone is done to you. After all, the word Dansavage could just as well mean the disgusting stuff that he ascribed to the name Santorum. Karmic justice. However only a few people know to what the word refers or use it in English and they would support Dan Savage in what he did and use Santorum’s name. Therefore, if some computer savy person wants to ascribe a different negative meaning to the word “Dansavage” it would be nice to figure out a meaning that more people would end up using. Let someone who believes in justice do it. Then we can sit back and see if Google etc helps one and does not help the other of if they treat the people with the problem equally. Dansavage does not need to be a noun.It could be an adjective. It could also be an expletive, or a verb.I imagine sentences like “That is one dansavage of a hazardous mess.” or “That is very dansavage of you to behave that way.” “That behavior is downright dansavagery.” or “Dansavage that hurt!!!” “Perez Hilton dansavaged Carrie Prejean in the Miss USA pageant.”.However it does not have to be limited to the savagery of gay Leftists who push the Leftist agenda and attack people in a mean spirited way. It could stand for hurting in a general way that is particularly vindictive, vicious, savage, dishonorable, spiteful, and hurtful, such as “He dansavaged the guy.” meaning sucker-punched. “Are you dansavaging me?!” It is a negative word that reflects back on the person who did it, more than on the recipient although it hurts the recipient. Just think how we could clean up speech by giving a meaning to this word. I hope it ends up in dictionaries. Children, (other than California schoolchildren due to a school regulation passed by Gov Jerry Brown whereby only glowing things can be said about the behavior of any person belonging to the GLBT movement-clal it a new form of 21′st century secular sainthood), could be taught that instead of referring to God, or to Moses, or to Jesus, or making scatological references, or sexual references, that they could use the word dansavage. People in the media could use it without getting into trouble with the FCC. Expletives are useful! Language is a living thing. I think I will make a New Year’s Resolution to use the new word dansavage. I give it to you the reading public and the public as a gift to be used, a word and a meaning, in the year 2012. I commented. I stated facts. I have been polite. I have made a suggestion. Any takers?

  • TMay

    Glenn Ferguson, January 5th, 2012 at 5:35 pm ET,:
    You stated:
    “This is crazy but its one of those things that easily happens with English words- their multiple meanings.”

    No it isn’t. An angry gay Leftist activist created the meaning to hurt Santorum.. Read my post above.

  • http://www.mindshareworld.com Ciarán Norris

    Danny – How much would you charge as an SEO consultant? How long did you spend researching that? I think that the Santorum team probably need to include that time as some sort of donation.

  • http://www.hortonwebdesign.com Chris Horton

    Danny, you’ve nailed it on the head. Google has been down this road before back in 2004 when Bush was President. If you recall, he was appearing for “Miserable failure” in the search results. And it’s not because Google feels that Bush is a miserable failure or that Santorum is “lube and fecal matter”. Matt Cutts was very clear that Google’s job is to show results that people expect to see.

    Nobody was typing in “miserable failure” until people heard about how Bush was appearing in the SERP’s as a result of an online post entitled “Obama Inherits Bush’s Miserable Failure Ranking”. Once that ball was rolling, the search volume for “miserable failure” increased immeasurably. So when people typed it in, that’s what they expected to see and that’s what Google gave them.

    The same is happening here with Santorum. The search volume increased 100′s of times over when word spread about that definition coming up when you searched for the word “santorum”. People expected to see that definition and that’s what Google gave them.

    A huge part of Google’s algorithm is a result of popularity and expectation. It’s an unfortunate incident, but it won’t go away anytime soon. Whether or not there’s foul play should be brought into question, but once it’s out there, Google has to show the expected results. If there IS foul play, Google better be careful or it could face a terrible demise. I would hope that Google realizes that their investors represent all denominations and parties.

  • http://www.architechsw.com david pavlicko

    Danny, good assessment of how the Santorum team really dropped the SEO ball with their site. However — I’m REALLY disappointed in how you took the low road and linked to the negative site first, making sure to include a detailed description of the site’s content right after the link.

    I couldn’t care less about Rick Santorum, but honestly this post feels more like you just wanted to add more potency to the negative site’s ranking.

  • http://laurentmunier.com Laurent

    A couple of things that no one here has mentioned…

    The http://www.spreadingsantorum.com is a legitimate website. Yes there is the Santorum definition on the first page but if you click through you will find it is a political blog with genuine content. The Santorum team might be mad, but the site is legit.

    Also… the site was launched by Dan Savage in 2010 long before anyone thought Bigot Santorum would try and run for president. Sanotrum running for president actually brought the website back into relevancy and kicked off a whole new pile of traffic.

  • Gracie Morris

    ha- and now in Bing his cache reflects : pick rick in puerto rico in title tag, now they’ve changed it to pick rick in louisiana? what are they doing? changing everything everyday?
    …i don’t know how I even found this article months later…woops!

  • JBharnes

    “Jew” is probably not the greatest example of an offensive search term, since many of the Jewish faith use it freely as a self-descriptor.

  • hcir

    Read the article again: it never talks about offensive search terms, it says “possibly offensive results”.

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