Since tomorrow is the Super Tuesday GOP primary election, let’s talk about mudslinging.
Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is in the news a lot these days, mostly because he’s the current Republican underdog who has shot into the lead in several national polls leading up to Super Tuesday. Fellow hopeful Mitt Romney has also been in the news, mostly because folks are mesmerized by the fact that he hasn’t yet sewn up the Republican nomination despite holding all the advantages. (There is also the issue that they both suffer from severe cases of foot-in-mouth disease.)
Both are also in the news because each has a certain search engine problem. Santorum’s is very well known and is the result of a years-long effort by gay rights activists to define the word “santorum” as a byproduct of certain sexual activities. (Rick Santorum has long been a vocal opponent of marriage equality for gay people, and even went so far as to compare homosexual marriage to bestiality.) The website responsible for the redefinition of “santorum,” spreadingsantorum.com, currently ranks in the number three slot on Google.
Romney now has a similar problem, thanks to the debut of SpreadingRomney.com in mid-January. It has jumped to page 1 of Google search results in just a few week’s time, which even industry veterans like Danny Sullivan find remarkable. The “romney" definition relates to the story of how Governor Romney once strapped the family dog to the roof of the car for a road trip to Canada, which made the dog sick and caused it to develop a nasty case of diarrhea while still on top of the car. (To be fair, the dog was in a dog crate; Romney didn’t literally strap his dog to the top of the car. The New York Times columnist Gail Collins has, in particular, not let the story die.)
The “romney" definition website got a big boost when, shortly after its debut, it was featured on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. Still, according to Sullivan, the site has managed its meteoric rise with relatively very few inbound links.
It would appear the SpreadingRomney website is not an effort by any of his political opponents, but that of an everyday citizen, Jack Shepler, who apparently just wanted to “make a point.” And Santorum’s search engine problem started well before he declared himself a candidate for President. This doesn’t mean, however, that such tactics won’t be used by opposition forces in future campaigns, if only because they seem so effective.
However you may feel about these candidates and their issues (or treatment of family pets), the use of SEO as a tool of retaliation and a way to undermine the credibility of an opponent is something to behold. Never underestimate the determination of someone with a grievance (or a point to make) to redefine the terms of a debate or otherwise harm your brand’s reputation through a well-orchestrated SEO campaign.
As you can see in these two examples, all that is required is a very simple website, a carefully chosen URL, and the dogged (if you’ll pardon the pun in at least one case) determination of an aggrieved party. Piss-off the wrong person and next thing you know, your brand could come to be defined as something not very pretty at all.