Now, Mitt Romney Has A Santorum-Like Bing & Google Problem

Perhaps Google may finally have to figure out a “fix” for Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem,” now that an anti-Romney site is making it appear that anyone can rank any protest page for any politician’s name. Bing has the same problem, but no one ever seems to care about that.

Spreading Romney

I was pretty surprised to discover the “Spreading Romney” site appearing in the top results on Google and Bing in a search for “romney” that I did today. I don’t recall seeing it recently, so it appears to be a new gain.

Here it is on Google, as the ninth regular listing:

I’ve also seen it as high as fourth position, also in sixth and sometimes Romney’s official site doesn’t even appear. Ninth seems to be the most consistent position for it.

The searches I’ve done were logged out of Google, using the “incognito” mode in Google Chrome, so that I appeared as a fresh searcher that Google had no history for. I also tested this on two separate computers.

Here it is on Bing, in the eight regular position:

The site is a single page which offers an alternative definition for “romney,” as shown below:

“To defecate in terror,” reads the definition, with the word “terror” as a link to a Huffington Post summary of news about Romney’s putting his dog in a rooftop carrier for a 12-hour drive to Canada in 1983 that’s been making the rounds again to haunt him.

The dog, as the journalist at the Boston Globe who originally found the story in 2007 explains, apparently didn’t enjoy the ride and ended up having diarrhea that trickled down the car while Romney was driving.

Unlike the Spreading Santorum site, Spreading Romney doesn’t lead to an associated blog with lots of information about Romney. Rather, there’s a link saying “Indianapolis Web Design,” which leads to a design firm that that may have produced the page and is hoping for attention. I’m checking on this. The page also links to Spreading Santorum.

Amazing Rise With So Few Links

It’s pretty impressive rise to the top of Google and Bing, for a site that appears to have started around January 12. Less than a month, and it’s in the top results for Google and Bing. How did that happen?

One way to know would be to see the people linking to the site. Here’s what Google reports:

Wow. Not one person seems to link to this site, and yet it makes it so high in Google. It’s pretty much the same at Bing:

Only two links gets you to the top of Bing, it appears.

In reality, neither search engine is reporting what’s really going on. If you want to understand more about why they deliberately withhold this type of linking data, and why that’s bad for those trying to investigate these types of situations, see my post from earlier this year: 2011: The Year Google & Bing Took Away From SEOs & Publishers.

Maybe a third-party tool can help. I turned to the Open Site Explorer, which shows links to sites based on its own data from “crawling” the web. It turns out, this site seems to be so new that OSE has no information. Majestic Site Explorer did better, telling me the site had 219 links to it from 67 unique websites:

Majestic sent me a full report of all the sites it found linking to Spreading Romney. It seems to be a relative handful of small sites of various types.

The Linking Campaign

Here’s one of those links:

That’s on this page at Democratic Underground, where the discussion is opened by someone saying “Google Bomb away” with a link to Spreading Romney and the word “Romney” as part of the link. The discussion goes on to encourage others to link in exactly this way. The page has nine links like this, in all.

Fark has a similar link, though it’s not really instructions on “bombing” in the way that happens at Democratic Underground. Some Tumblr pages link. A link on Digg. One from the “True Blue Liberal” blog.

Spreading Romney Gets Rachel Maddow Attention

Exploring further, the site certainly seemed to get a boost when Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show shortly after the site appears to have been created, on January 12:

It’s Not A Google Bomb, But….

As I said, it’s pretty amazing that this site has shot up in the rankings so quickly. It’s outranking long-standing sites such as:

  • The American Romney Breeders Association (Romney is a type of sheep)
  • The Committed To Romney site (which seems to be a pro-Romney site with substantial content stretching back to 2005)
  • The Dogs Against Romney site (apparently dating back to 2007, with 25,000 associated Facebook fans)

For this site to leap-frog over those and others, it creates all the same issues that Google initially encountered with real Google bombs, the impression that anyone can fire off a linking campaign and make it into the top results for anything.

Google eventually fixed the Google Bomb problem in 2007. The people who assume that Spreading Santorum is ranking because of a Google bomb — or that Spreading Romney is also a Google bomb — don’t technically understand what a Google Bomb is. Maddow is one of these people, by the way.

A Google bomb involves linking to a page with certain words to try and make it rank for those words, even if the page itself doesn’t mention the words. When people wanted to Google bomb President George W. Bush’s biography into the top results for a search on “miserable failure,” they linked to his bio with those words. That made it relevant for them, and it ranked.

The Google bomb “fix” effectively said that if a page doesn’t contain the words that people are trying to bomb  for, then the page won’t rank for those words. That’s why, after the fix, Bush briefly ranked again for “failure” after the White House used that word on his page.

Neither the anti-Santorum nor the anti-Romney pages are Google bombs because they use the words “santorum” and “romney” on them.

Google Bombs Redefined

Still, the pages are viewed by some as Google bombs in the non-technical sense of appearing to be some type of practical joke that has been played, some out-of-line manipulation of Google’s search results, something that perhaps makes those results irrelevant. And the Romney site ranking so well, so quickly, certainly suggests this is the case.

There’s a strong argument that the Spreading Santorum site has earned its place in the results for a search on “santorum” because it’s a protest site that began way back June 2003. That site has been out there longer than Rick Santorum has maintained his own official site. When Santorum left the US Senate, he doesn’t appear to have maintained his own web site. His campaign site is relatively recently, to my knowledge, as are his social media profiles. He joined Twitter in July 2009.

Substance Vs. Pranks

The Spreading Santorum site also has an associated blog that’s regularly updated with criticisms about Santorum based on news stories and recent events. There’s substance to it, rather than it just being a joke, as some perceive.

The Romney site touches on a serious issue, the treatment of animals, but there’s nothing further behind it. It has no historic legacy. It feels more like a successful joke on Romney than some type of political opposition.

The latter will rub off on the former, I’d say. Both will be seen as equal, and both will be seen as if Google is just letting anyone — in particular liberals — do what they want with its search results.

Certainly Google should take a harder look at why its algorithm rewarded a site with so little substance to it, especially as Google’s “Panda Update” is especially supposed to penalize “thin” sites. Spreading Romney is arguably a “thin” site that’s getting past that filter (perhaps because it’s so new that it hasn’t yet been caught by it). The Spreading Santorum site might need to consolidate its blog into the main spreadingsantorum.com domain to avoid “thin” problems, too.

It’s Also A Bing Bing

Of course, everything about the perception that people can just “bomb” Google results to make political statements is equally applicable to Bing. But it’s rare to see anyone criticize Bing over this.

By the way, for those wondering, there isn’t yet any type of similar protest sites that seems to have made it into the first two pages of results on either Google or Bing for searches on Paul, Gingrich or Obama.

More From The Site Creator

Postscript: I’ve heard back from Jack Shepler, who created the site, who told me:

I’m not associated with any campaigns. I made it to be funny, and to make a point, and I believe it did just that.

and:

I can tell you that so far the site has received 44,492 pageviews, according to analytics. I don’t have plans at this time to expand on the site, but who knows what will happen if he gets the Republican nomination.

and:

The site launched January 10. A friend said it was on page 2 on January 14. It hit page 1 on January 16. Within a couple days it was up the 4th result, where it stayed for a while. I double checked the page 1 results with a couple friends on the internet to be sure.

Postscript: See Bing & Google: “Spreading Romney” Ranking Tops For “Romney” Is Normal for my follow-up story with a lengthy analysis of how freshness, some link gains an attention due to the “Maddow Factor” might be at work.

Related Articles

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 | Link Building: Link Bombs | 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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  • http://sites.google.com/site/winooski/ Winooski

    I smile because I don’t support these candidates, but then I think how there’s nothing stopping a group of conservatives from spinning up a similar SEO bomb for [Obama]. O tempora, o mores.

  • http://www.pbs.org/mediashift Mark Glaser

    Actually, when you search for “obama” on Google, one of the results on the first page is for a major propaganda film against Obama called “The Obama Deception” on YouTube. It is pretty crazy stuff, but has been viewed 9.8 million times. Here’s part of the film’s description:

    “The Obama phenomenon is a hoax carefully crafted by the captains of the New World Order. He is being pushed as savior in an attempt to con the American people into accepting global slavery.”

    Not the same kind of Google bomb material but definitely a weird link to find on the first page of search results.

  • http://www.couponcodescout.com Daniel Sayer

    Try doing a Google Search for “George Soros”…, not a Google Bomb but another great example!

  • gmcguire

    With all the left and right leaning organizations that support these candidates and politicians you’d think they’d be able to dominate the first 10 results of any SERP!

    I’d make 10 propaganda websites and get every conservative/liberal blogger to link to them depending on which side I was on.

  • http://www.davidlonergan.com David Lonergan

    There are a few easy ways to get a site ranked high in Google in the first 30 days of its existence.
    1.) Write keyword heavy meta tags
    2.) Ensure your h1 tag is exactly what you want to be found for – in this case ‘romney’
    3.) Provide enough content to get indexed – in this case a definition
    4.) Have a least 1 outbound link and 1 inbound link that has been indexed in Google
    5.) Immediately install Google products such as Analytics and Google+ –
    6.) If possible, include your h1 tag in your domain name, which it does.
    7.) Install Webmaster Tools about 1 week later

    If you employ ALL of the above tactics which are ‘best practices’ anyways, you can easily get on the first page of Google organic results. It is even easier to do it with a city qualified term. I have been successful with this at least 85% of the time, albeit the results don’t last long….

  • TT

    I’m fairly sure a search for “romney” would get a QDF component, so the short timeframe actually works in favour of this. Law of Unintended Consequences, perhaps?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    TT, I did consider QDF and almost mentioned that. It’s a good point. But that tends to work more toward news sites and content, which this isn’t. Still, query deserved freshness might be at play here — though Bing remains a mystery.

  • http://thedofollowblog.blogspot.com Nikhil Raj. R

    That site is registered in January. I think it might be due to Google Sandbox Effect. The site got links from Fark and other sites. Also it has the word “Romney” in the title, url, and on the page. Also the Pagerank is 4. Probably the site will be put into the sandbox after some more days. Am I right Danny??

  • TT

    >> tends to work more toward news sites and content

    Yes

    >> which this isn’t

    Maybe. Check the data

    http://www.google.com/trends/?q=romney
    http://www.google.com/trends/?q=romney&ctab=0&geo=all&date=ytd&sort=0

    That’s a hell of a spike, and I’d be looking hard at QDF with that profile

    >> though Bing remains a mystery

    Heh, that’s kind of a cold reading. Once I’d remembered to force a US location, I see the offending site at #3, or #4 (incidentally, specifying a US town / state combo seems to reliably hike it up to #3, so there seems to be a non-trivial geo-component for them)

    Oh and Bing tried to snag my FB details and sign me in with them, without my permission, which kind of sucks. But that is, I suppose, a can of worms for another post

  • http://fantasybooksreview.com amypiggott

    That’s unbelievable. The sole reason why the search algorithms exist is to prevent irrelevant websites from being on the first page. I hate seeing people who’ve scammed the system somehow, and also would like to see them banned from the first page along with any of the websites associated with that website. It’s not relevant search, it’s just garbage

  • T.T.

    Amy,

    You’ve got that exactly wrong; algos are meant to promote that which is relevant, not screen out that which is not. It seems a thin philosophical distinction, but it’s important. “Relevance” is a tricky term, as this story illustrates quite well. In this case, the result in question is, in my opinion, relevant for the term “romney”, because it’s expressing a point of view, and lots of people are choosing to link to it / share it via social media / otherwise talk about it.

    Whether you, personally, agree with the sentiment of any given result is, natch, irrelevant. What matters is the aggregate sentiment, as expressed in terms of those links, likes and mentions. All points of view have the same chance to be heard, and even when they get a ranking, no-one is forcing you to agree with them. They still deserve to be heard though.

    Allowing free competition, and letting the best results (or at least the best as well as can be determined by any automated system) rise to the top removes a lot of human bias, intended or not. All possible results are then judged by the same standards, and stand or fall on the same merits. That’s about as fair as it’s currently possible to be

    >> I hate seeing people who’ve scammed the system

    Yes, I too would like to see Wikipedia get a domain level ban from nearly all result sets ;)

  • http://www.crystallake.name N.S.

    All Republican Christians routinely Romney on our country, this isn’t anything new.

  • D.H.

    It worries me that such a “reputable” SEO website would use the link: operator in their research, when it has become – or so I thought – common knowledge that that operator is no longer to be trusted as Google engineers have shut down support for it for some time now.

    How does searchengineland.com not know that? Sorry, but that renders the rest of your credibility completely useless to me.

  • T.T.

    D.H.,

    Your understanding of the link: operator is indeed flawed. You probably don’t know much about the history of link:, and I don’t intend to retell the whole sorry saga here, but the short version is that it now only shows a selection of links that meet certain quality threshholds. It is no longer an exhaustive list of backlink data, but it can provide some information, especially, as in this case, negative information.

    The point is that you’d expect a new site competing in a relatively competitive single-word term to need at least a couple of powerful links to rank highly, which this site appears not to have. You might find it instructive to perform a similar search for the spreadingsantorum.com domain, and compare and contrast.

    I’m sure Danny would have liked to have access to better information when writing this post. I know I would. Why don’t you write to Google, and ask them to uncripple it, so we can all benefit from more complete information?

    >> Sorry, but that renders the rest of your credibility completely useless to me.

    Danny has been writing about SEO since before it was known as SEO. I suppose you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’d strongly urge you to do a bit more research before reaching a final judgement

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