• http://www.heatherphysioc.com Heather Physioc

    An impact on the country? A little stretchy there. The only impact I see on the country is a positive one. It shows that voters even in a minority segment (LBGT) can have a voice and can’t be censored just because boohoo some politician doesn’t like what’s being said about him. (Good for him for finally coming around and accepting it in the end.) Censoring this particular act of political speech would be an abomination. Google is an American company and this is an American politician, for the sake of brevity I’ll reference the U.S. Constitution where the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. And of all the kinds of speech there can be, political is the most important and highly protected form of free speech – as it should be. And this is a clear form of political speech – including the redefinition of the name and especially the internal parts of the site – even it is uncouth and makes people uncomfortable.

    It does beg the question – how is this Santorum situation any different than the President Bush Google Bomb? A Google Bomb exposes a distinct flaw in the Google algorithm that is subject to manipulation. Obviously Google wants to patch holes that make the search algorithm susceptible to attack and harm the relevance of their search results. They’re going for the utilitarian “greater good” thing. This isn’t a “Google Bomb” though. This kind of creative political speech was legitimately driven to the top of the search results because people optimize and consume the content, and if people want the content and are given the content they want, that is for the “greater good.” Even if this was “solely just some joke definition designed to embarrass Santorum” he’s still a politician in the public eye who is subject to that kind of speech. Deal with it.

    How to remedy and/or mitigate it? Good ole’ reputation management SEO. Create good, valuable, broad-reaching real estate in the SERPs with content that is equally or more valuable than the site (good luck) to hopefully drive it down. I especially liked the “Say sorry” approach. I would think that Wil Reynolds (MozCon presenter) would support that as it kind of echoes his “white hat linkbuilding” approach he discussed at MozCon 2011.
    I think the SafeSearch filters need a little work to help protect kids from this kind of content if parents so choose, but that’s a separate issue entirely that would make a great blog topic on here.

    I loved Sergei Brin’s quote, “I shouldn’t impose my beliefs on the world.” I think we could all stand to think like that. Rick Santorum included.

  • http://searchengineland.com Jonathan Hochman

    The general problem is that Google provides an excellent platform for libel. When a search focuses on the name of a person, Google should be more careful how things are listed, putting more emphasis on reliability, and less emphasis on popularity. Hate sites ought not be given so much visibility as they are now. A person should not need to run an SEO campaign for their own name.

    Example: a friend came to me because searches for his daughter’s rather unique name had a neo-Nazi hate site coming up first. She’s gay and the comments about her weren’t very nice. A private individual was being libeled by way of Google, and the only help Google could give was to suggest that the victim create some social media profile pages that might rank higher.

    Another client had a problem with an IRS page that detailed their tax evasion. No issue. If you break the law, you live with the consequences. (Once the client paid their debt to society we asked IRS to update the page, which they did.) I think Google is smart enough to recognize that the IRS is a reliable source, and Stormfront isn’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericmatthewdavis Eric M. Davis

    @Johnathan – saying it is libel by the means of Google is saying that Gossip from Tabloids is Libel by the means of Paper companies.

  • http://searchengineland.com Jonathan Hochman

    Gossip from tabloids is libel by tabloids. Google is smart enough to know that Stormfront probably isn’t good search result for somebody’s name. All they need is the will to improve and they can. Unfortunately they aren’t being pushed hard enough by competition, so they can rest on their past accomplishments and meanwhile innocent people have their reputations damaged, and may even find it is hard to get a job because of the particular information that Google carelessly selects to present about them.

  • Lily

    In my opinion, this is amazing. (Maybe because I have a bachelors in Politics but I work in SEO.) This is the ultimate example of the types of free speech issues that can come up with Google and other search engines. In my opinion this is really not Google’s fault at all it implements the same search algorithm regardless of the content it is ranking. Santorum should do a better job of hiring a good SEO company and should stop complaining.

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

    I also tried a search for ‘rick santorum’ on google, bing, yahoo, ask, blekko, dogpile and duckduckgo, Google was the only one to return the spreadingsantorum website first.

    Besides aren’t doorway pages a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines? Isn’t that what I get when I click the result?

    Personally, I could care less about Santorum, but I think that Google wields an awful lot of power when it comes to politics. If these results aren’t unbiased (i.e. Official political site SHOULD be first, but never the only site), and what’s being presented as a top result is just a smear site, that’s a real problem. If that site was #2, I wouldn’t be complaining at all.

    So basically, this just tells us that all the crap Google says about returning the best result is just that…BS. Obviously, keyword stuffing and mass link building still works like a charm.

  • http://www.sitesell.com KenEvoy

    This is an interesting case. We at SiteSell can speak to it from a different perspective, “thanks” to our Googlebomb problem…


    Based on all that we’ve learned, Santorum is not going to get this changed, not even if…

    1) the originators admit it’s a Googlebomb


    2) Santorum digs up a ton of documentation proving it’s a Googlebomb.

    I should have prefaced this by saying that I am about as apolitical as anyone can be. This comment is not about politics/gay issues.

    This is about how Google accepts the manipulation of a Google weakness to the detriment of users’ search experiences. They’ve done it with Googlebombs as our 3-part series on the 10-year history of the Googlebomb showed (in SiteSell Blog).

    And they are accepting it here.

    Why not fix their weakness?

    It’s not prioritized highly enough. When a manipulation of a weakness embarrasses Google in a “front-page way” (ex, Vitaly Borker, Michelle Obama’s ape-face), “fixes” happen fast. It’s “everyone else” who does not prioritize highly enough.

    A few points…

    1) Google should not be allowed to define “Googlebomb” as narrowly as Danny quotes. A Googlebomb is merely link-bombing as referenced to Google. WHO the destination site belongs to is irrelevant. A link bomb is not just for “other sites.”

    I believe that our definition is more accurate…


    Wikipedia’s shorter definition is fine, too…


    “The terms Google bomb and Googlewashing refer to practices, such as creating large numbers of links, that cause a web page to have a high ranking for searches on unrelated or off topic keyword phrases.”

    No mention of who benefits, just the process and result.

    2) Was it a Googlebomb?

    First, let’s use some common sense…

    Most people who search for “santorum” are not searching for the fictitious definition of “santorum” created by spreadingsantorum.com.

    So something’s wrong with Google’s algorithm, based on Google’s obsession with the quality of the “user experience” (i.e., what searchers are MOST likely searching for).

    But was it a Googlebomb?

    There are a high number of links to spreadingsantorum.com (for a relatively obscure site/term), but that is not, by itself, evidence of a bomb. The high number of links and the #1 ranking for “santorum” is not even an absolute cause-and-effect relationship (although it could be called “the likely relationship”).

    Rick Santorum has no proof this is a Googlebomb. For this to be labeled a Googlebomb, you’d need…

    i) spreadingsantorum.com to admit that it is a Googlebomb, or at least…

    ii) have a ton of documentation that major leaders instructed many others to create tons of links to the site, with precise instructions. Without that, this appears more like a semi-coordinated reply to statements that the gay community feel are repulsive.

    Santorum has no such proof, as far as we can see.

    Yes, this site was created to embarrass Santorum.

    Yes, it has moved to the top of the rankings, above more accurate results for a search for “santorum.”

    So yes, there’s a weakness in Google’s algorithm. After all, a made-up meaning for “santorum” ranks #1, ahead of a public figure’s name.

    But… that does not mean that Google Guidelines were violated. Even little-or-no SEO (Search Engine Optimization) needs to be involved here. The high ranking could be purely organic, driven simply by the rallying of a community under attack.

    As a result, while a Google weakness is revealed, this is not something that Google will “fix.”

    Heck, as explained in detail on our blog, Google won’t “fix” the Googlebomb that attacks us (SiteSell and SBI!), even though…

    i) the main beneficiary publicly admits the bomb

    ii) we have tons of documentation (including archived evidence before it could be pulled down by the perpetrators), all presented to Google, and

    iii) Google itself admitted it when they de-indexed the page from Google Canada (only!), but then refused to answer why they did not extend the same logic to “Google rest of the world.”

    3) There appears to be an extenuating circumstance in the Santorum case. According to Wikipedia, extortion seems to be involved. The founder offered to take the website down if Santorum donated US$5 million to “Freedom to Marry”…


    Santorum must consider this to be a devastating search result. I don’t know if the $5M offer still stands, or if this was in jest.

    But taken at face value and given that Google has no compelling reason to take this search result down (other than “good user experience”), it crosses the line into borderline extortion.

    4) And that brings up the most serious of all issues, significantly more important than “Santorum” itself…

    Say good-bye to what the U.S. most needs now, a vibrant leader with strong and smart positions on what the U.S. needs to do while on the brink of a major economic collapse, but that will most certainly rile one special interest/lobby group or another.

    Want to cripple that “future Jefferson”?…

    Just create a humorously/devastatingly insulting word for the potential savior of a financially doomed country. Then e-lobby/rally your constituency.

    Bingo! you have a ridiculed public figure. Every time you search for his name, you’ll find the equivalent of “santorum.”

    Let’s call it “santoruming” because there is no evidence of a Googlebomb here. (Even if there was, Google has no real algorithm to detect and eliminate link-bombing, in any event, as per our series of articles on Googlebomb in our blog).

    Googlebomb or not, this is a reproducible technique.

    And it’s all OK?

    Google is OK with this technique that enables extortion and stifling?

    4) Santorum has now contacted Google. All I can say is “Good luck!”

    “Santoruming” is a brilliant strategy, but it offers low value to the searcher.

    Common sense tells you that most people won’t find a fictitious word that has been “rallied to the top” to be the best answer for a search for a public figure. It’s a poor search result that does not serve most searchers correctly.

    THAT violates Google’s basic goal of “good user experience.”

    But, based on our experience, where we provided so much more evidence of blatant wrong-doing about Googlebombing…

    Don’t expect Google to do anything about “Santoruming” until a major and beloved figure is attacked with this, to Google’s “front page embarrassment.” Historically, that is what moves them.

    Consider our own case…

    1) We archived every instruction, every admission of collaboration between gurus, and gave it all to Google.

    2) The beneficiary of the bomb admitted its existence clearly, in writing, on her own blog.

    3) Google itself agreed with us, de-indexing the bombed result in Canada and then refusing to answer why “only Canada.”

    I don’t know what Santorum would need to get Google to fix “Santoruming.” Neither basic SEO nor advanced reputation management is going to push spreadingsantorum.com out of the #1 spot (without Google’s overt or covert support).

    Maybe Santorum should just cough up the $5M.

    Maybe Google should consider the larger ramifications on the future of the U.S. It needs a leader like it’s never needed one before. Honestly, though, would you leave a very successful position elsewhere, just to be covered in “santorum” for your ideas?

    All the best,
    Ken Evoy
    Founder, SiteSell.com

  • M.M.

    @Jonathan Hochman: So should Google also censor Santorum’s “libel” against gay and lesbian Americans?

  • http://www.silverspike.co.uk/ Alan Perkins

    Good article Danny. I agree with much, but not quite all, of it …

    > It is poor relevance from both Google and Bing that his campaign site is ranking behind Spreading Santorum. From a relevancy standpoint, for most people, I’d say it should be first.”

    What you’re saying here is “algo fail”. I agree. But you then also say …

    > “To “fix” Santorum’s concern, Google would have to remove the site from its index. ”

    Why? If its algo is failing, as we agree it is, why not fix the algo? As Google has before when it determines its results are less relevant than they could be. Not a specific tweak for Santorum, but a recognition that their algo is failing and a general fix for it.

    Google’s search results represent its opinions, not necessarily of what it finds relevant itself, but certainly of what it believes its searchers find relevant. As such, if the algo is failing to deliver that opinion properly, then the algo needs changing. If of course Google believes the current order of its results is better, then it should make no changes.

  • TimmyTime

    Danny you are wrong and I don’t like Santorum either. Free speech, right? So if someone calls Michele Obama a monkey –via a picture–isn’t that free speech? Sure it is, yet Google removed it. You cannot take a side in free speech, all or none.

    If Google sees a result that’s not so relevant, what do they do? ‘Fix it.’

    Matt’s comment is even funnier: ““santorum” isn’t a Googlebomb, it’s straight SEO. Here’s the difference. With a Googlebomb, you’re causing someone else’s site to rank. With SEO, you’re promoting your own site. So spreadingsantorum.com is promoting themselves for “santorum,” which is SEO….”

    I am going to try to do that with a Hotels site to see how far that argument flies :)

    Google is milking this for all its worth, but if it was another case they’d change it based on optimization and especially relevance. Without this storm in a teapot, how many average users would expect spreadinsantorum.com to be #1 when searching for Santorum? No they don’t have to remove them, they can put it at second or third place. We all know that Google does change results, manually or they make the algo do it, which is the same.

  • http://tinyurl.com/1000dailies D.R.

    let’s be honest here, santorum is a player in the game of national politics with access to the best and the brightest, not some backwater rube. instead of complaining all this time, if santorum had hired a SEO savvy pr person he wouldn’t be having this problem. However this “problem” gets him sympathy from his base.

    If google is milking this, so is santorum to promote his own agenda.

  • http://www.clickfire.com/ Emory Rowland

    Looks like the problem is fixed now.