Susan Hallam MBE, Founder and CEO of Hallam, a digital marketing service, looks at the recent news that Google’s Chief executive Sundar Pichai went in front of US Congress to defend his company, as searches for the term “idiot” on Google result in several photographs of President Donald Trump.
Susan explores how and why this is happening, looks at more high-profile examples, and then offers advice to those working in the industry.
Many political leaders have been a victim of a Googlebomb, and now it is Donald Trump’s moment of fame. Search for the word “idiot” and the resulting images of the President of the United States stem from the deliberate manipulation of the Google search results to deliver a Google bomb: an unexpected, amusing, or malicious result.
The joys of Google bombs are back. A Google bomb is a deliberate effort to force a website to the top of the search results for an inappropriate phrase by manipulating Google’s ranking signals.
Quite simply, there are a number of signals on the Internet, from social media content to imagery, links and web page content, that leads Google to make the connection between images of Trump and the keyphrase idiot.
Sundar Pichai, Google’s Chief Executive, recently explained to US Congress how Google works. He said “Any time you type in a keyword, as Google we have gone out and crawled and stored copies of billions of [websites’] pages in our index. And we take the keyword and match it against their pages and rank them based on over 200 signals — things like relevance, freshness, popularity, how other people are using it. And based on that, at any given time, we try to rank and find the best search results for that query. And then we evaluate them with external raters, and they evaluate it to objective guidelines. And that’s how we make sure the process is working.”
This is an example of the link: do a search for the word idiot and most of the images you see in the Google Image Search results will be of Trump.
Google Bombs Over the Years
The manipulation of the Google results over the years have no regard for political persuasion. Leaders of every hue are the victim of the Google bomb satirical effect.
Many year ago, I wrote how Google was diffusing the Google bomb phenomenon, but clearly it lives on. Google occasionally will diffuse a Googlebomb, removing the hapless site from the top of the rankings.
In 2008 George Bush triggered the key phrase miserable failure.
Tony Blair also had his Googlebomb moment of fame triggering the word liar and the UK Prime Minister also later ranked well for the word poodle.
And in 2009 Michelle Obama was the victim of a racist Googlebomb attack manipulating Google Image search.
How does a Google Bomb work?
This Googlebomb is the result of optimising images for the search engines.
More than likely, a campaign earlier on in the year to get the Green Day song “American Idiot” to the top of the music charts in the UK had an impact on the rankings, as the web pages are using the word Idiot in the content on the page, there are images of Trump on the page, and Google is putting two and two together to make the assumption it is Trump that is the idiot.
In addition, the social news aggregator Reddit has been giving strong Trump=idiot signals as users are up-voting images as part of the Google bomb campaign.
In 2007 Google announced that it has de-fused the ability for users to manipulate the search results, and in particular why Google does not manually edit the results in order to remove inappropriate rankings.
But despite Google’s best efforts, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
More seriously, as digital marketers what can we learn from Google Bombs?
If you take a good look at the search results for your company’s key phrases, you will often find that in addition to standard web pages, you will also see Image, Videos, News, and a range of other types of content. Each of these content forms have a set of rules, or algorithm, they use to rank the content.
The techniques being used in a Googlebomb are, quite simply, an extreme form of search engine optimisation taking advantage of a combination of signals including social, content, and link attributes.
Of course, the results of the Googlebomb will rightly fade away once the trolls have done their work, and normal search results will resume.