Why Does Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine Hate Rick Santorum?

US presidential candidate Rick Santorum pulled off a surprise last night, winning caucuses and primaries in three states. So what’s with Bing listing an anti-Santorum web site first in its results in a search for his last name? Does Microsoft have some type of liberal agenda!

Wait, you didn’t realize Rick Santorum has a “Bing problem” that’s exactly the same as his well-documented “Google problem,” where a search for “santorum” lists a web page defining that word as the by-product of anal sex above Santorum’s official web site?

He does. In fact, Santorum’s had his Bing problem for months, if not years. It’s just that everyone fixates on Google. Even Santorum does when he gets asked about it, such as telling Politico last year:

“I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, they’d get rid of it,” Santorum said. “If you’re a responsible business, you don’t let things like that happen in your business that have an impact on the country.”

He continued: “To have a business allow that type of filth to be purveyed through their website or through their system is something that they say they can’t handle but I suspect that’s not true.”

It’s A Search Engine Problem, Not A Google Problem

In the wake of Santorum’s win, and no doubt eventual questions in some quarters about why Google still isn’t “fixing” things for him, I thought it was worthwhile to flip things around and discuss his Bing issue.

It’s worth stressing that this isn’t just some gay-loving-Google-liberal-leaning-hates-Santorum thing and more a general problem Santorum has with the major search engines. In particular, it’s a problem that’s ultimately down to Santorum’s anti-gay views.

Santorum & Bing: Just Like Google

Here’s what Bing currently shows for santorum:

You can see that just after the special news area that Bing inserts above the regular results, the first listing that the arrow points to is for SpreadingSantorum.com, with a description that reads:

Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum

Santorum’s own official site, RickSantorum.com, appears third on the list.

Over at Google, which gets all the attention, the same issue happens:

Google’s news box appears further down on the page, probably because of the special election results box that appears at the top. Spreading Santorum, the anti-Santorum web site, appears as the first regular result. The official Rick Santorum web site appears fourth in the regular listings, one further down than with Bing.

By the way, the same thing also happens at Yahoo. Since Yahoo largely depends on Bing’s results, a search on “santorum” brings up the anti-Santorum site first, as it does with Bing — though after Yahoo’s own news units.

The news is better for searches for Rick Santorum’s full name, rather than just the word “santorum.” In that case, his official site ranks tops. Here’s Bing:

And here’s Google:

Does It Matter?

It’s becoming clear that Santorum’s Bing problem, as with his Google problem, isn’t stopping many Republican voters from selecting him over other candidates. So should Google or Bing really worry about trying to somehow fix it, especially when any type of change like that opens them up to accusations about censorship or political favoritism?

Perhaps.

The SafeSearch Solution

The biggest issue to me might be the fact that as interest in Santorum grows, you’ve got more children in schools likely to be searching on his name. Getting a fairly explicit description in their search results talking about “lube and fecal matter” and “anal sex” might not be what a lot of parents want them seeing.

Both Bing and Google have a SafeSearch filter that is set to “Moderate” by default, which means it only filters out explicit images. Setting this to “Strict” will keep the Spreading Santorum site from appearing in text listings. That’s something parents and teachers can use.

It’s Not An Irrelevant “Google Bomb”

How about a manual intervention to solve this problem, which has mistakenly been called a “Google Bomb.” Didn’t Google do something like that for President George W. Bush?

“Liberal leaning” Google did. The Google Bomb fix wasn’t specifically designed just for Bush, who found people were linking to his biography in a way to make it rank tops for “miserable failure.” It was meant to fix any type of case where people tried to make pages rank for odd phrases that they weren’t relevant for. But questions about the prominent Bush listing helped prompt the fix.

The Spreading Santorum site isn’t ranking because of some type of Google Bomb campaign. It ranks because it is entirely relevant for “santorum.” It was created years ago as a protest against Rick Santorum’s anti-homosexual views. Those views are entirely relevant, in fact arguably more relevant the further Santorum advances as a candidate to be president of the United States.

To drop the site, Bing and Google would actually be making the type of political move that Santorum seems to think that Google is already doing (he clearly doesn’t seem to think about or care about Bing).

But How About A Disclaimer?

There is something that Google is long overdue to implement. Consider what it used to show when you’d search for “miserable failure” and got the George W. Bush biography:

See the ad above the listings that the arrow points to, which say:

Why these results? These results may seem politically slanted. Here’s what happened

The ad led to an explanation at the official Google Blog. Google does a similar thing today, for a search on jew, which brings up an anti-Jewish web site:

It’s long past time for Google to do something similar for searches on “santorum.” They are going to confuse some people, who will assume Google’s trying to advance a political agenda with its search results.

I’d say Bing should do the same thing, but Bing’s never even tried to have explanations like this. Maybe it should consider it.

But Spreading Santorum Is Here To Stay

As for Rick Santorum, as I wrote before, the best way to solve his Google and Bing problems would be to change his views on homosexuality or make a donation to a gay marriage-rights group. That’s what Dan Savage, who created the Spreading Santorum site, told Mother Jones in 2010:

Savage has not forgiven Santorum for his seven-year-old comments: “Rick would have prevented me and my partner from being able to adopt my son,” he points out. But Savage does have a deal for the politician. “If Rick Santorum wants to make a $5 million donation to [the gay marriage group] Freedom to Marry, I will take it down. Interest starts accruing now.”

That’s unlikely to happen, so Santorum will have to continue living with the Spreading Santorum site showing up alongside his own.

Related Entries

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 | Search Marketing: Public Relations | 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://www.linkedin.com/in/chriscornwell Chris Cornwell

    You are right Danny. Santorum should just completely compromise his principles in order to call off the dogs. What a lesson! What sort of lesson is Dan Savage teaching by the way?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Chris, the dogs include a significant number of Americans who believe gays should have the right to marry. That number includes both gay and straight people who view this as an equality issue.

    So yes, if he doesn’t want to take flak on this issue, he should consider changing his views. If he doesn’t want to, then he gets to continue living with political opponents also being out there and showing up in search results.

    One thing Dan could do would to be change the Spreading Santorum home page from the definition that it originated with into instead something that’s at first glance more focused on the deeper issue.

    IE, the anal sex definition could be retired and all the tracking of Santorum’s anti-gay views could be brought to the home page. If you go past the home page, to the actual blog that it leads to, you’ll quickly find that there’s plenty of content there.

    That might help Savage even better promote his concerns about Santorum to a wider audience than the current site, and I doubt the change would cause him to lose his rankings. It would also make it harder for Santorum to dismiss in some quarters as this being some “filth” rather than something that was sparked out of a serious debate that’s going on in the US.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/chriscornwell Chris Cornwell

    Right. What is happening with search results does not further the cause Dan Savage cares so much about. Actually, it betrays his lack of seriousness and accomplishes nothing other than hardening the opposing view. Just another way to divide people.

  • http://www.agillian.com Carlos del Rio

    This is an amazing display of why online reputation management is important. If you are a public figure that hopes to run for President it is advisable to not make public statements that are both bigoted and derogatory. I applaud the search engines for not changing their results from what they come up with algorithmically.

    SpreadingSantorum.com began many years ago in response to what a very large group of people felt were indefensible remarks made by a political figure. On almost every external factor SpreadingSantorum is the superior site and it has a more diverse pool of content with greater history.

    The time for Santorum, and really any one in his position to address catastrophic reputation issues like this is at their inception, not 9-years later. By not addressing the issue back in 2003 Rick Santorum had allowed for his existence and aspirations to be eclipsed by the cultural relevance of the neologism that shares his name. He really has no right to complain; he stood by his views and the American people stood by theirs. In the end haters gonna hate and even a senator has to pay the bill his mouth statements ring up.

  • A.T.

    I wonder what parents are more afraid of: their kids seeing the spreadingsantorum site, or the fact that Santorum is still relevant enough in the presidential election that their kids are searching for him

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    I think it’s shameful how you’r advocating censorship for political purposes.

    Whatever happened to “freedom of speech”?

  • http://www.eddieborgers.nl Eddie

    Ehm. What’s wrong with that guy? If he wants to rank on something, in this case his name, he has to do something for it. His website is, except for his domain name, not really built to rank on “santorum”.

    In my opinion both Bing and Google do good to not put ricksantorum.com #1. That would mean the algorithm sucks. Complaining about it is too simple and rather lame. He can better focus his energy on finding a decent SEO.

  • B.B.

    I love how liberals are all for this when it is a Republican getting a negative result. I happen to wonder what the comments would be if this was happening to Obama. What if it was an openly racist website getting the position due to a Google bomb? Google has the responsibility to show relevant results and that result for Santorum is nothing more than a lot of people gaming Google’s system. The most relevant result for that search should be Santorum’s campaign website and everyone knows it whether you like the man or not. Personally, I don’t like Santorum and won’t vote for him but I think people need to use some common sense and get over their political leanings.

  • B.B.

    I am not saying to censor the result completely. I just would like to know how that website is more relevant than the campaign page, facebook page and twitter page of a candidate running for President of the United States. Google and Bing need to put that result where it belongs, at the bottom of the 1st page or the 2nd page of the results.

  • http://www.gavoah.com David Mark

    Danny, I agree with your assertion that Spreading Santorum is there because of a search engine issue, not just a Google issue, but your conclusion that it is “here to stay.” Does not hold up. If Rick Santorum would be made relevant only for the politician then you would see the negative drop over a period of time. Once could also try to redefine the word “Santorum” in a more neutral state. No site is impervious to being made irrelevant. Tick Santorum does not have to change his views at all.

  • http://www.MarketingTactics.com davebarnes

    As a libertarian, I say: “butt out”.

  • http://managinggreatness.com Gil Reich

    Not to worry, I’ve avenged Santorum by defining Savage as
    Not domesticated or cultivated; wild
    Not civilized; barbaric
    Vicious or merciless; brutal
    Lacking polish or manners; rude

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Chris, agreed, Savage could change the site so it doesn’t seem to alienate people who don’t treat it as a serious protest. But if you’re talking about dividing people, when Rick Santorum decides the only type of family seems to be straight-families, he divides a lot of people, too.

    Honestly, if you change out the word “Gay” and insert “Black” for some of the statements I’ve heard him make, you’d think he was some 1960s politician trying to push back against equal rights.

    A.T., there’s an important difference between parents who may want their children to understand his views and them wanting to understand those views by reading a semi-explicit description talking about anal sex and lube. There are, if you will, non-explicit news stories that can also inform them.

    It really depends on the age of the child, and what the parent wants them to be exposed to in terms of language, not facts, if that makes sense.

    Michael, For one, “freedom of speech” is a legal right that protects people in the US from the government censoring what they say, not what a search engine or newspaper says. But more important, I’m not advocating for censorship at all. That simply wasn’t in the story. I did say that if parents or teachers don’t want children searching to have an explicit description to appear, they can use the SafeSearch filter. They may want to this on a regular basis anyway, because there’s a lot of explicit stuff that can come up with nothing to do with politics.

    Brutusbuckeyes, in the case of George W. Bush getting actually Google Bombed, as I explained, Google instituted a fix. That pretty much deflates your argument. The most relevant result for Santorum is, at this point, arguably his own site. There are good reasons why he’s hurt himself for ranking better for that, as this explains more:
    http://searchengineland.com/how-rick-santorum-is-making-his-google-problem-worse-106665

  • A.T.

    I kid, Danny, I kid. The graphic definition is definitely worse for kids, unless they happen to be gay.

  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi all-

    First of all, as a disclaimer, I have been a Dan Savage “fan” for years. I have read most of his books and enjoy his writings very much. And I support his It Gets Better Project.

    This is how I see it. No one is immune to criticism, positive or negative. That includes me (Google my name and you’ll see colorful criticisms). That includes the Church of Scientology. That includes Rick Santorum.

    If one website is better optimized, organized, written, etc. than another website, then that site is better optimized. No one person or organization deserves to rank. Relevancy is relative because searcher context is relative.

    As a former homophobe, let’s just say I am glad I had the open-mindedness to read and learn things I was once ignorant about. It is easy to dismiss Mr. Savage’s point of view without understanding his context. I found it interesting that he and I were students at University of Illinois at the same time, and his family doesn’t live far from mine. So I understand his context more than others might.

    Honestly, no one is entitled to rank. And what is relevant to one searcher isn’t relevant to another searcher. Folks commercial web search engines do the best they can (I hope) to deliver results that satisfy the majority of searcher goals and behaviors.

    Santorum said what he said. He is not immune to criticism. He should hire a good SEO but should not expect miracles. People are going to criticize politicians’ (and others’) points of view whether we agree with them or not.

    As far as I am concerned, parents and teachers should not be blind about how to use the commercial web search engines and should monitor their children, students, and teens usage of web search. Don’t blame Google or any search engine for something that is not their fault.

    My 2..okay maybe 4 cents.

  • B.B.

    Danny, what about the Bush fix deflates my argument? Quite honestly who searches for “miserable failure” on Google anyways. This is a totally different situation and I was talking about you and other Democrats, not Google. Google talks and talks about relevant results. In this case people searching for Santorum are not looking for some guy’s site that doesn’t like Santorum. People are overwhelmingly looking for Santorum’s campaign site or twitter or facebook and possibly some news stories that Google throws above the results. If you can’t admit to that then you have some serious political bias.

    then again Danny seems to have done his own little flip flop on the Google bomb issue when it pertained to a Democrat:
    “Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, says Google could have acted even faster in Obama’s case, and that he was “disappointed” that the Internet giant did not act preemptively last week.

    “They knew this was an issue before the inauguration, but it wasn’t until after it happened that [Google] finally got to it and said, ‘We better re-run our system,’” Sullivan told FOXNews.com.

    “I know there are bigger issues to worry about,” he said. “But then again, people turn to search engines to try and find information and this is the kind of thing you want them to be paying attention to as part of an overall communication strategy.”

    Sullivan likened Google bombing to a “neighborhood kid spray-painting on your wall,” and he said he expects these kinds of digital antics to continue.

    “It’s probably going to be an inevitable fact of life for politicians moving forward to see themselves involved in these types of pranks,” he said. “But you don’t want to go around reacting too much, either.”

    Asked if he thought Google’s reaction to the Bush and Obama Google bombs appeared to be biased, Sullivan replied, “I give them the benefit of the doubt. If you’re an Obama friend at Google, waiting until after he’s in office is not being a good friend.”"

    I found that little story on Google at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,485632,00.html

    Quite honestly, this whole debate is silly, Google needs to give relevant results to what people are looking for and Santorum needs to wake up and realize that Google exists and get some SEO consultants on staff not that it will help much at this point.

  • http://www.derrickwheeler.com Derrick Wheeler

    The bigger issue here is why I don’t rank for Wheeler?

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    BB – “Danny, what about the Bush fix deflates my argument?” Your argument seemed similar to what I’ve seen others, including Santorum say, that Google wouldn’t allow this (Bing gets ignored) because of some liberal leanings. But it actually fixed things for Bush (not specifically for him, but it was the main embarrassing Google Bomb out there. It also has never “fixed” the anti-Jewish site that appears.

    But if you’re saying liberals or Democrats are all for this showing up because they are anti-Santorum, sure, I suppose that’s true. I’m pretty sure conservatives or Republicans are all for negative things that show up for liberals they oppose.

    I totally agree — for a search on Santorum, I would expect by now that his own official site should be ranking, and I should see more prominence for his Twitter and Facebook pages. But he has himself to blame for lots of this, as my earlier article explains. He didn’t have an official page for ages.

    And, in fact, his Facebook page does rank. Also, so do plenty of news stories. If it weren’t for the campaign results being at the top of the page, the news stories would have been first as well as integrated into the results.

    What people are overwhelmingly searching for when the put in “santorum” isn’t as actually as clear as you think. Plenty want his campaign site, absolutely. Plenty — and perhaps more — want news about him. A chunk of them are just checking on how they’ve heard this result brings up this definition. And I see all of that there.

    What I don’t see is a reason for Google or Bing to come up with a fix to remove the anti-Santorum site becuase, unlike Google Bombs, it’s relevant. It’s a relevant result. That’s why when you’re trying to find a flip-flop with me, there’s not one. This is a completely different issue.

    I think we actually agree more than we disagree. If you go back to what I’ve written about Santorum, I’ve expressed surprise that both Google and Bing still haven’t managed to rank his official site tops, which at this point I’d agree is probably the most relevant listing. I’ve said twice now, I believe, that Google ought to consider a disclaimer.

    But drop the Spreading Santorum site? Nope, because it’s also part of the diverse set of results that do indeed feel relevant here.

    AT, oops, sorry!

  • B.B.

    The only thing I take issue with is that this piss poor website with a vulgar reference to a Presidential candidate is somehow magically relevant enough to be moved ahead of what people are looking for. The only reason it is ranked highly is manipulation of the search algorithm by thousands of liberal leaning websites. How is it more relevant than even facebook and twitter? I think you are letting your personal bias outweigh your common sense. It is a free country to post an opinion website, but to claim that this website is somehow more relevant than what people are actually searching for is a reach. Google doesn’t need to ban the site, they just need to put in a manual penalty to get the site where it deserves to be: the bottom of the 1st page or top of the 2nd page of results. I know this argument would be totally different if it pertained to President Obama because that is what the political discourse has come to in this country. This is almost to the level of MSNBC and Fox News still trying to say they don’t have bias towards any particular party. Danny has formed a very biased opinion of this Google bomb because he happens to dislike Santorum’s views on homosexuality when he argued in the past to correct a Google bomb for a politician he liked. I would really like to see all these suddenly “free speech” Democrats opinions if this was happening to Obama on a search for Obama.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    BB, it’s not a Google Bomb. If it were a Google Bomb, I’d be asking why it isn’t being corrected. But it’s not.

    No, I don’t like Santorum’s views. I have too many gay friends that I could ever like those views.

    Does not liking Santorum’s views mean that I’m giving Bing and Google a pass on this? No, but you’re free to believe whatever you want.

    All I can tell you is that it’s a relevant site because if you actually go into the site and explore it, there’s a constant stream of news about Santorum.

    I’m not saying it’s more or less relevant than Twitter or Facebook — just that it’s relevant and isn’t something that Google should stamp out.

    Should it receive some type of manual penalty? Because why? Because it’s anti-Santorum site? If you do that, does Google apply this to every other type of anti-site?

    By the way, do a search for “obama” and you get Twitter and Facebook near the bottom of the page, not the top. Search for Gingrich, and you don’t get them at all. Romney only lists Facebook near the bottom.

    So with Santorum, when you view it as some deliberate attempt to keep those pages down for him, the reality seems to be that’s pretty normal for other candidates. In particular, when there’s a lot of news coverage, that news coverage seems to push things down further.

    You are correct. There is absolutely no doubt that the Spreading Santorum site ranks well because thousands of people who oppose Santorum years and years ago started linking to it.

    If Santorum’s official site isn’t years and years old. I think it’s less than a year old. He’s not maintained any official presence for himself over time for people to have linked to him in the same way.

    That’s been changing, as the campaign has gone on. I totally agree that Google and Bing (remember, this happens on Bing — it’s not just a Google thing) ought to look at their algorithms to see why the official Santorum candidacy site doesn’t rank tops, because at this point, I’d agree it probably should be there. It’s what many people are expecting when they search for him.

    But by no means its it the only thing. And by no means does that mean the Spreading Santorum site should be removed from the results.

    Again, I actually think we agree on this far more than you’re thinking.

  • BB

    I agree completely with your last post. I think most people would agree censorship is not good as we don’t live in China or the Middle East and we don’t want to go to that kind of system anytime soon (hopefully people and businesses will continue to rise up against SOPA like bills that Congress seems intent of passing). Personally, my point was to move politics aside which is hard to do and look at the pure relevancy of results which will never be a perfect system. I think all politicians could learn a lot from President Obama and Ron Paul when it comes to Google and Bing. Maybe they will make money long after they are done with politics teaching others how to run that important part of their campaigns.

  • http://www.cxinteractive.com Brian Robinson

    @ B.B. This isn’t a left vs right issue as Danny has said. If you don’t believe me, check out what a republican has to say about gay issues: http://youtu.be/CbmbdWK6338

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