Google Bombing And SEM Is Evolving Into 'Search Engine Activism'

Whether you believe Google bombing  still works or not, the fact is that more conventional SEM tactics such as SEO and PPC are alive and well in their power to increase the search engine visibility for various types of digital assets.  While Google's January 2007 publicity effort around a specific algorithm to neutralize link bombs caused many online activists to give up on linking initiatives, many others have branched out to new search tactics, including SEO, tagging, blogging, social media optimization and Google Earth.   Noted Google bombers like OpenLeft's Chris Bowers are also starting to sing the praises of another quick path to number one: Google Adwords.



The most famous case of activism in the search engines is the Google bombing campaign for the phrase "miserable failure." This was a targeted effort by thousands of bloggers and Web masters to point as many links as possible to President George W. Bush's bio page on, so that the page would rank #1 in Google for the phrase.  In what was likely the first act of "presidential SEO," the White House responded with a page redirect.  From Search Engine Land:

"The Bush Administration almost certainly tried to alter Google results itself through a change it made to the White House Web site in September 2006. It redirected the Bush bio page to a general page about all U.S. presidents. [That] move would likely have condemned future U.S. presidents to also be ranked for the term."

Others have become targets of "miserable failure" link bombs as well, including Michael Moore and Jimmy Carter, whose pages catapulted to the top of the SERPs.   At this writing, the presidential bio page site is still ranked at #3 in MSN, and #1 in Yahoo (for more, read Danny Sullivan's recent post on the first anniversary of the Google bomb diffusion).

Going beyond the Google bomb

In order to better understand how various other tactics have been used in the search engines, here are some examples that display a particular social, political, or consumer activist goal:

Adwordsbombing in Ohio.  Chris Bowers details an aggressive paid search stacking campaign by his group, Blogpac, in which Google Adwords ads were placed on the term "Bob Latta", a candidate in a special election for Ohio's 5th District Congressional seat in December 2007.

Operation Clambake.  Anti-Scientology Web site ranked highly for Church of Scientology-related search terms and phrases in Google, resulting in one of the first publicized hand edits, though engineers later reversed it.  The Church of Scientology continues to be the target of a group called Anonymous, which is using Google bombs and YouTube as its tools of choice.

The Martin Luther King link bomb.  Blogger Tim Hoffman led a campaign to get an anti-MLK site out of the MLK keyword space, even enlisting Robert Scoble for the cause.

Jeff Jarvis and his computer warranty woes.  Blogger Jeff Jarvis was not happy about how he was treated by his computer manufacturer's customer service department, so much so that he punctuated one high-ranking blog entry with this consumer search activist tinged comment: "Put that in your Google and smoke it."

Appeal for a jailed blogger, via Adwords activism.  Jon Garfunkel used Adwords to help assist a detained Egyptian blogger.

Amazonbombing.  If you buy into the notion that Amazon is a vertical search engine for books (I do), then here is an example of tagging activism

David Berkowitz, consumer search activist.  Fellow Search Insider David Berkowitz recently used natural search to alert unsuspecting buyers to a Craigslist scammer.

Google Earth Activism.  Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Delaney writes about how environmental group Appalachian Voices is using Google Earth and Maps to show how mountain tops have been razed for their natural resources.

Ethan Zuckerman on "Why Genocide Is Worth At least A Buck A Click."  Zuckerman used Adwords to create attention for conflicts in Africa, and is also mining the data for analysis.  He details his campaign analysis in another sobering post, entitled, "Famine, $0.45 per click and rising. Genocide, down $0.03 per click to $0.28."

With the increased use of a variety of tactics in the noncommercial keyword space, I think we are seeing the beginnings of a much bigger trend in search that defies simple categorization as "link bombing," or even "search marketing" or "search advertising."  Over the next two columns, I will continue to explore some of the elements and motivations of online activist's search campaigns, and how these campaigns shed light on the value of search engines -- value that is often overlooked in commercial SEM.

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