Santorum’s Changing “Google Problem” — & Search Engine Land — Make The Rachel Maddow Show

As we covered last week, Google’s search results for a search on “santorum” have gotten a lot cleaner recently. The change was featured on The Rachel Maddow Show last night, and Search Engine Land’s coverage got a big shout-out. The clip is below, as well as an update on all things Santorum and Google. Santorum himself is finally number one, and that SafeSearch change Google made turns out not to be so safe.

Maddow Covers The Santorum Shuffle

“Spreading Santorum” Drops At Google is our story from last week and provides all the background about how the “Speading Santorum” site — created as a protest years ago against Rick Santorum’s anti-homosexual views — was dropped from the top results at Google in a search for “santorum,” after being listed that way for years.

Maddow covered the change (thanks for the tip, John!) in this segment on her show:

Search Engine Land Gets A Cameo

About two minutes in, Search Engine Land gets one of several shout-outs in the piece, along with some on-screen visuals:

Nice. That’s going on the shelf right next to Charlie Sheen tweeting one of our articles, Neil Gaiman retweeting one of our stories and Bill Gates thanking us for some SEO advice.

Maddow’s Inconsistent Results Likely Due To Personalization

Maddow notes in her clip that while the Spreading Santorum site with its explicit description has dropped, the Urban Dictionary site with an even more explicit description has taken its place. Sometimes. Said Maddow: “Interestingly, we are not all getting the same results.”

Chances are, some of those staffers at her show are logged into Google and seeing personalized results from Search Plus Your World. Even logged out, Google will still personalized results based on past searches that it can detect having been done by someone’s browser.

That’s why different people might get different results. You can turn these off as explained by Google here, or you can use a private browsing mode like “Incognito” in Chrome, “Private Browsing” in Firefox or “InPrivate Browsing” in Internet Explorer to see what unpersonalized results are like (though even these will have some geographic targeting that happens).

Rick Santorum Finally #1, But Spreading Santorum Is Back

Here’s what I see when I use these private surfing modes. I’m seeing these same results using two different browsers on one computer and also using private browsing on another computer:

The first listing is the official Rick Santorum web site. This is the first time Santorum himself has ranked first in the results for “santorum” for years, if ever. Last Friday, when I checked, he was third behind two Wikipedia pages.

The second listing is from the Spreading Santorum blog. This is run by Dan Savage, who created the separate Spreading Santorum site that generally had the first listing on Google for “santorum” until things changed last week. When the Spreading Santorum site disappeared, the blog took its place, though at a lower ranking of sixth place.

The third listing is from the Spreading Santorum site. Yes, the same site that disappeared last week, in the wake of Google’s changes. But previously, it was the home page of that site that ranked tops, the page emblazoned with the infamous definition for “santorum.” Now it’s a page from inside that site, a table-of-contents page of collected material that later effectively evolved into the separate blog.

Meanwhile, completely gone is what beat everyone last week after the change, a page of definitions for “santorum” that was hosted by the Urban Dictionary. This offered an even more explicit definition that we covered before and that Maddow remarked upon in her show.

SafeSearch Not So Safe

What happened!

Google’s change last week was to its SafeSearch feature. Normally, that feature is designed to prevent adult or explicit content from showing up for any type of searches, if you’ve specifically enabled it.

Google made a change that effectively switches SafeSearch on even if you haven’t set it, for searches that aren’t deemed to be adult or explicit in nature. In other words, if you search for “movies,” most people probably wouldn’t expect to have listings for porn movies appearing. To prevent that unexpected surprise, Google’s change takes any content deemed to be adult in nature and filters it out of results that aren’t adult-oriented. But search for “porn movies,” and that type of restriction is removed.

Google eventually confirmed all this with me after I wrote my original story. In the case of a search for “santorum,” that’s clearly being deemed as a non-adult or non-explicit type of search, so SafeSearch filtering is kicking in. Last week, that filtering kept the Spreading Santorum page out. But it didn’t block the explicit Urban Dictionary page, which was puzzling.

Today, it’s clear that Google’s done more tweaking. The Urban Dictionary page has probably been tagged as explicit, so it doesn’t appear. The Spreading Santorum blog was never tagged as explicit, so it remains. It’s also increased in ranking probably because of Dan Savage encouraging people to link to the blog.

That’s a smart move. It was easy for some to dismiss the Spreading Santorum site as some type of prank that Google should somehow prevent. But there was a serious issue underlying it, which the blog covers. It becomes harder for some, I’d say, to argue the blog should somehow go.

Of course, the big irony in all this is that Google is now showing the same explicit description that the old Spreading Santorum site had for both the blog’s listing as well as the new Spreading Santorum page.

The pages themselves aren’t deemed as explicit, so they get in. But Google’s automatic systems have decided, in their wisdom, that explicit descriptions of these pages should be used, even though that’s only a tiny part of what they contain.

Over at Bing, nothing has changed. Spreading Santorum continues to rank first there (and at Yahoo), and no one cares or notices. This was never a Google-only issue, even if people only care about Google.

Meanwhile, Spreading Romney continues to rank for a search on “romney” at both Google and Bing. That site didn’t use explicit language, so it wasn’t in danger from the Google SafeSearch change.

As for how it managed to rank so quickly? That brings us full-circle. It probably got a big bump from what I call the “Rachel Maddow Factor.” For more about that, see Bing & Google: “Spreading Romney” Ranking Tops For “Romney” Is Normal.

FYI, to keep up with future updates to this topic, see our Santorum’s Google Problem category for the latest articles. Some background articles are also listed below.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | 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.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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