“Spreading Santorum” Drops At Google; New Site Keeps Anal Sex Definition At Number One

As Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum loses two primary races to rival Mitt Romney, perhaps he can console himself with, ironically, another loss. Spreading Santorum, the page defining “santorum” as a by-product of anal sex, has finally dropped from the top results on Google. The related anti-Santorum blog, however, remains. And a page from Urban Dictionary keeps the definition alive, more explicit than before.

Santorum: The Definition Page

The page at SpreadingSantorum.com, created by columnist Dan Savage as a protest against Santorum’s views about homosexuality, has maintained its position in the top results on Google for years. The page defines “santorum” as:

The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.

To understand more of the history of the site, and how it ended up doing so well on Google (and Bing, Yahoo and Baidu), see my previous article, Should Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem” Be Fixed?

The page was still in the top results for a search on “santorum” when I checked last week. However, Anthony Hecht alerted me this evening that the page had disappeared. Indeed, I see the same, though as I said, the related blog is now showing. I’ve had multiple other confirmations this has happened.

Before The Change

The before-and-after explains better. This is before, as of Feb. 8, the last screenshot I have handy for a search on santorum on Google:

You can see that SpreadingSantorum.com appears as the first regular listing; the official Rick Santorum site comes in at  fourth. Those positions are pretty typical of what I’ve seen over the past few weeks, as I’ve written about this story.

After The Change

Here’s tonight:

In this case, the official Rick Santorum site has remained in fourth position. The SpreadingSantorum.com page has gone. It doesn’t appear in the first page of results at all. However, the Spreading Santorum blog — blog.spreadingsantorum.com — does appear in the top results, listed sixth.

The first place position Spreading Santorum had is taken over by a page at Urban Dictionary, which says:

The sometimes frothy, usually slimy, amalgam of lubricant, stray fecal matter, and ejaculate that leaks out of the receiving partner’s anus after a…

That’s a pretty odd switch. Given that Spreading Santorum originated the sex-related definition of “santorum,” its pretty odd relevancy for Google to decide that a different site offering an even more explicit definition should get top billing.

For a search on rick santorum, SpreadingSantorum.com had ranked in the first page of results, such as in fourth place, as shown here. Today, it’s moved to the second page of results. And oddly, it’s not the home page that appears but instead one of its inside pages:

Anti-Santorum, Just Less Explicit

Here’s another before-and-after, this time focusing on the how the Spreading Santorum page used to appear, complete with explicit description, and how the blog’s home page now takes its place:

What Happened?

I’d say Google’s come under greater pressure about the “santorum” definition page as Rick Santorum has advanced as a candidate. There have been any number of mainstream press reports about it, including some debate on whether Google should do anything to “fix” it.

To date, Google has refused to make any change specifically to the listing, which is pretty much in keeping with how it approaches these types of issues.

Instead, Google prefers to resolve tricky issues like these by looking for solutions that may impact a wide range listings. For example, rather than specifically fixing how President George W. Bush was “Google bombed” to rank for “miserable failure,” Google rolled out a fix to solve Google bombs in general.

“Official Page” Change?

As I’ve explained before, the situation with Santorum is not technically a Google bomb, which is why it has escaped that pre-existing fix. But the shift might have happened due to an announcement Google made yesterday, that among about 40 changes to its search engine, it rolled-out an improvement for detecting “official” pages:

We’ve made an adjustment to how we detect official pages to make more accurate identifications. The result is that many pages that were previously misidentified as official will no longer be.

Possibly, the change is seeing blog.spreadingsantorum.com as the “official” page for Spreading Santorum rather than SpreadingSantorum.com itself.

Alternatively, it could be that SpreadingSantorum.com was somehow getting an “official” designation of some type associated with it, which may in turn have lead to a a ranking boost. Without that, the page dropped, with the blog moving up.

Link Change? Panda “Thin” Content To Blame?

Two other changes might also be involved. One is this:

We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.

Google wouldn’t tell us more about what happened here (we did ask yesterday), but it could be that the links pointing at the Santorum definition page are being evaluated (like all links are) in a new way that prevent it from ranking as well.

Alternatively, there’s this:

This launch refreshes data in the Panda system, making it more accurate and more sensitive to recent changes on the web.

The Panda Update is designed to prevent “thin” content from ranking well (see our Panda Update infographic for more about this). A single page with only a short definition might have been deemed to thin and got hit by this latest Panda update, which rolled out yesterday.

Of course, the Spreading Romney site is just as “thin” as Spreading Santorum, and that hasn’t disappeared. So Panda might not be to blame.

Other Weirdness?

For the search geeks out there trying to diagnose this, consider this:

That’s what I get at the top of the results for a search on spreading santorum. The first arrow shows how blog.spreadingsantorum.com is listed, then “sitelinks” are shown below that. The second arrow is pointing at the home page of spreadingsantorum.com, which technically is a separate site from blog.spreadingsantorum.com.

This sometimes happens. For example, a search on amazon sometimes shows me Amazon’s affiliate site as a sitelink for Amazon.com, even though the affiliate site its own domain.

But look at the third arrow. Even though blog.spreadingsantorum.com is listed as the main link, the “More results” link wants to bring back matches for spreadingsantorum.com overall. It’s strange and suggests there’s some confusion going on.

By the way, I heard back from Savage soon after posting this story. He’s made no changes to the site that he’s aware of that would have caused this, he told me.

Stay Tuned

I’m checking with Google for any explanation they have. Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile, the definition continues to rank tops in searches for “santorum” on Bing, Yahoo and even Baidu.

NOTE: The original headline for this story of “Santorum: No Longer A By-Product Of Anal Sex, According To Google” was changed because, as now noted, the Urban Dictionary listing is still keeping that definition up there.

Google Responds: It’s SafeSearch To Blame

Postscript (10:30 AM ET): Google has sent this statement:

We make more than 500 changes to our algorithms in a typical year, and with each of those changes sites will shuffle to different positions in our search results. We have not manually taken action to change the ranking of the site.

Postscript 2 (12:45 PM ET): Google tells me this is related to its improved SafeSearch algorithm, one of the other changes that was just announced. There’s no explanation yet about about why Spreading Santorum got hit while the Urban Dictionary page did not.

Postscript 3 (7:00 PM PT): Google says that the change even impacts results if you have SafeSearch set to off. In other words, even if you turn SafeSearch off — and should get no adult content filtered out — adult content may still be filtered out. That’s pretty weird.

The best I can think is that if you go back to what Google posted about the SafeSearch change:

We have updated how we deal with adult content, making it more accurate and robust. Now, irrelevant adult content is less likely to show up for many queries.

I’ve bolded the key part. SafeSearch was originally designed to keep porn content from showing up unexpectedly, such as when kids might search for “barbie” and get naked women showing up. Enable SafeSearch, and you helped prevent that.

But SafeSearch now seems to operate to ensure that porn, adult-oriented or possibly objectionable content doesn’t appear for a query that doesn’t seem to be relevant for that type of material.

Search for “sex,” and you might expect some explicit content. Don’t want it, SafeSearch can help prevent it. Search for “santorum,” and many people might not expect explicit content. As a result, SafeSearch effectively downgrades adult-oriented content even if you don’t have it switched on, because it deems that content to be less relevant to the search.

In the case of Spreading Santorum, the associated blog is far more than just an explicit definition of “santorum” as related to anal sex. As a result, the blog might not be tagged as adult while the now-missing home page was. When it went, the blog still had enough relevancy to effectively take its place.

That’s my speculation. Again, I’ll see if I can get further confirmation from Google. I’m also still trying to get an explanation about why the explicit definition from Urban Dictionary didn’t get tagged.

Postscript 4 (March 5): Google confirmed for me that SafeSearch does downgrade adult content if not deemed relevant to the search. Also, since March 2, the Urban Dictionary site has no longer been appearing.

Postscript 5 (March 8): Santorum’s own site now ranks tops, Spreading Santorum is back (sort of) and other notable changes are covered in our follow-up: Santorum’s Changing “Google Problem” — & Search Engine Land — Make The Rachel Maddow Show.

See also our new category for further updates that may come: Santorum’s Google Problem.

Related 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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  • david.suarez

    hey i still see the page and the def in the SER, i took a screen shot for proof

  • Ayaan Ahmed

    You missed the Urban Dictionary link in #2 position. Which clearly explains something related to Sex, According To Dictionary.

    And what about Rick Santorum ?

    Position #11 in Google santorumexposed.com.

  • http://ninebyblue.com/ Vanessa Fox

    This presents as a technical issue to me. (Or possibly but less likely, a penalty I guess.) I wonder if they changed anything recently on the site (that they don’t realize). I might reach out to Dan Savage and ask a few more questions.

    The home page simply links to the blog, which it may have done for a while, but the blog header links back to the blog main page. There seem to be no links back to the home page. The footer links here: http://www.spreadingsantorum.com/index2.html, which seems to have been the old format of the site and the header in that case links back to that page. I’m wondering if every page of the site used to link to the home page and now no pages of the site do.

    Edited to add: a have a bunch of other ideas that are better than the paragraph above. After reading the update from Google on SafeSearch, that makes sense. The binary nature indicated a tech issue or penalty. But applying safesearch would operate as a penalty would.

  • http://www.ryanmjones.com Ryan Jones

    Could this be an issue of QDF? Not only has the santorum thing gotten a ton of press, but primaries are now in full swing and his name is all over the front page of the newspapers – looking at the results it seems google is showing recent posts and news coverage. Is it possible that google decided this query is one that deserves freshness and the results changed because of that?

  • Marla Hughes

    As usual, you guys are professional, objective, honest and politically neutral. The epitome of professionalism.

  • Roark

    Your obsession with anal sex is boring and frankly pathetic. Why don’t you knock it off?

  • https://plus.google.com/108294644843012118879/posts Allen Cross

    My results with Firefox 10.0.2 for Mac show Urban Dictionary down at #4 and two pages from Savage’s site buried at #8 and #9. Search was done while logged out of everything but Twitter…and I’ve never tweeted about Santorum.

    Screenshot in my G+ album.:

    https://plus.google.com/photos/108294644843012118879/albums/5627529381484082881/5714934493199530338

  • https://plus.google.com/108294644843012118879/posts Allen Cross

    Just noticed Danny’s update. Checked on Safe Search and found it set to ‘moderate’ (filtering). So, I re-set it to ‘off’ (no filtering) and then tried the Santorum search again.

    This time, both the Urban Dictionary and Savage listings were gone from SERP1. Only mention of anything unsavory was highly relevant: a Mother Jones article entitled…

    “Rick Santorum’s Anal Sex Problem”

    Figured I might as well try one more search — again, after logging out of Google and everything but Twitter. Results were basically identical to the preceding attempt.

  • SteveL

    I have to admit, there’s something that’s been bugging me since Matt Cutts made his “this isn’t Googlebombing, it’s SEO” comment.

    Google’s aim should be to “find the most authoritative sites on the Web for a keyword”, not “to find the sites that have the best SEO”.

    I think if you ask 99% of the people searching on the word “santorum”, all of them will say that they were looking for information on the presidential candidate, not on what a band of Internet pranksters decided to redefine his name as.

    While it’s cute to use semantics to say this is not “Googlebombing” because the target is their own site, not someone else’s site, the bottom line is–it’s using artificial link patterns to effect Google’s ranking algorithm. It’s really no different than what JCPenney or Overstock were raked over the coals for doing–even though the sites which participated in this linking scheme weren’t paid cash money, it’s arguable that they did receive intangible rewards (namely, the buzz and furor this has caused that detracts from Santorum’s candidacy, something the Romney, Gingrich and Obama campaigns would definitely pay for if they could).

    An argument could be made that Rick Santorum’s site doesn’t have strong SEO, but honestly, they’re doing a lot of things the way Google says they should be done. They’re 301ing the second level domain to the third level, they’ve included Open Graph tags, they include relevant information, and so on. Their link graph is “natural” and healthy just the way Google likes–there are no signs of link spam. If I were consulting them, I’d probably suggest that they add a bio on the home page, they put descriptive ALT tags on their slideshow and logo images, and they do a 301 redirect from /index.php to the root, and so on. But honestly, we’re just nitpicking at this point.

    While a lot of folks will sit back and laugh because they feel Santorum has “what’s coming to him”, as with anything to do with politics (or SEO), a lot of this can turn around quickly. If this can be done so easily to the “Santorum” brand, why couldn’t it be done to any other brand? Already on Google Local, you’re seeing that the preferred tactic of reputation management companies is NOT to load up a client’s profile with positive reviews, but to load up their competitors’ profiles with negative reviews. For the time being, it’s the businesses that are being hurt, but at some point it’s going to turn around and be Google that people can’t trust anymore, which will leave the door wide open for someone else. If you think that can’t happen, remember that most of us who were on the Web in 1997 swore by a little search engine called Altavista.

    Interestingly, Bing is still showing “spreadingsantorum” as its first result, likely because its algorithm is almost completely reverse-engineered from Google’s. On the other hand, a little search engine called “Blekko” has as its top results articles from Fox News, Rollcall, Politico, the US Congress, Mother Jones, and Wikipedia. Again, taking politics out of it–which one would YOU trust?

  • Edward

    That google result is a national treasure and should be restored to its proper prominence immediately. Just as a person typing “barrel roll” into google probably isn’t all that interested in aerodynamics, the majority of the people searching for Santorum do so for the pure frothy joy of spreading santorum. I hold out hope that, even as Santorum is wiped off the polls with the kleenex of democracy, santorum will surge to the top once gain.

  • http://christineboese.net Chris Boese

    Quick question: how much can differing results be a direct output of Google’s new personalization scheme to serve up different results to different users based on their previous searches, preferences, and usage patterns?

    While Google may think such approaches are designed to “help users,” it effectively screws researchers or anyone who depends on a repeatable and uncorrupted data set. Google is putting user experience assumptions ahead of the value of returning an accurate database call.

    What can serious researchers do when data sets aren’t reliable? Will we be forced to return to the days of Lexis/Nexis and proprietary databases for reliable data sets?

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