Presidential Hopeful Rick Santorum Stymied By Search Problem

As former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum sets his sights on the White House, he has a lot of awareness-raising to do, and he desperately needs some help with search, a Roll Call piece this week shows.

Currently, when you search for Santorum, the first result is a blog apparently started by gay syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who masterminded a successful campaign to associate the Senator’s name with anal sex — on Google and Bing, at least. Savage, and other like-minded folks, launched and supported the site against Santorum back in 2003, after the Senator made comments against homosexuality.

“Vulgarity” Or Freedom Of Speech?

“The Internet allows for this type of vulgarity to circulate,” Santorum told Roll Call. “It’s unfortunate that we have someone [Savage] who obviously has some issues. But he has an opportunity to speak.”

While the search results may not have significant impact in places where Santorum is already known, they may turn off voters who know little or nothing about the politician. Santorum is widely thought to be laying the groundwork for a presidential run in 2012.

Politics & Google Bombs

The situation highlights how important search savvy is in politics, at a time when so many turn to search engines for information. One of the more well-known political Google Bombs was started by opponents of President George W. Bush, who made it so a search for “miserable failure” brought up Bush’s biography page as the first result. Google made a change to its algorithm in 2007 to diffuse that Google bomb.

Those results no longer come up, but Santorum’s problem remains. That’s because his isn’t really a true Google Bomb, even though it’s often characterized that way.

Santorum told Roll Call that he hasn’t reached out to Google directly, and his consultant John Brabender said he didn’t want to stifle free speech. Roll Call reported that former Santorum staffers consulted “technology experts” about their options years ago, and concluded that there was little they could do.

Surprisingly, it apparently hasn’t occurred to Santorum to mount a Savage-style defense, getting his supporters to link to his official sites to boost them higher in rankings. He has also declined to take out paid search ads for his name. (Interestingly, a search for “miserable failure” still brings up paid ads for the George Bush center).

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Search & Society: General | Search Marketing: Public Relations

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  • http://www.search-engine-academy-washington-dc.com Nancy E. Wigal

    I question the expertise of his “technology experts.” They ought to know that a good, solid linking campaign, given time, can help. Surely Santorum has the $$$ to run a good PPC.

    And yes, this is free speech. I remember when Santorum first incurred the wrath of Dan. Dan was very quick to engage his readership (user generated content, anyone?) and got this huge response. Hence, the SERPs that now come up.

    Great article – thanks so much. IMMD.

  • http://www.raisemyrank.com/ Bob Gladstein

    I don’t think I’d call this a Google bomb per se. A Google bomb involves pointing a great many links with specific anchor text at a target page in order to get that page to rank for that anchor text, even if it doesn’t actually appear on the page, e.g. the “miserable failure” bomb of GW Bush’s White House biography page.

    In this case, Savage created a site with the intent of ranking well for “Santorum” — note the title tag of the home page — and then used a widespread linking campaign to push the ranking. It’s really just standard SEO, albeit with the intention of giving the former senator’s name a new (and well deserved) meaning.

    A Google bomb would have involved a campaign using anchor text to get a site like ricksantorum.com to rank well for a query like anal sex.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    The blog is a Hostile Entity (in the parlance of search reputation management). All he has to do is get healthy, supportive sites to focus on his name so they rank for that above the hostile blog.

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