Google Bombs have interested me for a while now, since Google has tried to snub them out algorithmically. For those of you who have not heard of a “Google Bomb” before (where have you been?), Wikipedia defines a Google Bomb as:
(also referred to as a ‘link bomb’) is Internet slang for a certain kind of attempt to influence the ranking of a given page in results returned by the Google search engine, often with humorous or political intentions. Because of the way that Google’s algorithm works, a page will be ranked higher if the sites that link to that page use consistent anchor text.
So basically, get a bunch of people to link to a specific page, with specific anchor text and it will rank for that term. Google doesn’t particularly like this and is quoted saying:
We don’t condone the practice of Google bombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we’re also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don’t affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.
Back at the start of this year, Matt Cutts (Google Chief Anti-Spam Warrior) announced they will be algorithmically reducing the impact of Google Bombing. This spiked my interest and I had several discussions (heated) with some SEO friends as to how Google could reliably pick out a Google Bomb. Successful Google Bombs are normally organised, generally by bloggers who will group together and it has a kind of “chain mail” effect of each blogger telling people in their sphere to play ball and link. As you can imagine, the effect on the links is approaching exponential as 1 blogger tells 10 friends, then those 10 people tell their 10 friends and so on.
So the hallmarks of a Google Bomb:
- Rapid link growth (almost exponential)
- All links pointing to one specific page
- All links share exact same anchor text
However, there are several problems. What happens if:
- Having your site on Digg/Reddit etc can result in massive link growth?
- You release a great bit of content so everyone is linking to a specific page?
- You release a product that automatically links back (such as Acrobat or MyBlogLog Widget) with specific link text?
Or any other of hundreds of different variables that could make your site appear to have been Google Bombed?
I started studying various Google Bombed sites and I came over a factor which had been previously overlooked: Because of the nature of Google Bombs and their intent (joke/political/abusive) the anchor text used to link to the site, rarely has any relevance to the content.
Example time! Probably the most famous example of a Google Bomb is when the search term “miserable failure” (or just “failure” for that matter) brought up the official George Bush biography on the Whitehouse site. After Google had made their algorithm adjustments, this killed the ranking for this iconic term. Searching for “miserable failure” would no longer bring up the Whitehouse site.
About one month later, I saw a few comments on blogs that the Google Bomb was actually working again. When I checked it out, my friend pointed out that although it was still the biography ranking, it was a different page than before. When you examine the new page, I found something that confirmed my suspicion. The new page that was ranked for “failure” actually had the word “failure” in the page content a couple of times. This proved to me that one of the main elements in deciding if something is acting like a Google Bomb is comparing the external anchor text links to the on-page content.
Google quickly patched over this and the site no longer ranks again. I’m left somewhat suspicious now, because any search you do for “George Bush Biography”, if you add the word “failure” in there, it won’t show the real biography anywhere near the first page. This would leave me to believe one of two things, either:
A) One a Google Bomb and it’s anchor text has been identified, any links pointing to the page with that anchor-text will either stop passing weight, or perhaps carry negative weight.
B) Google, to save face have manually adjusted the results for the Whitehouse site. (Although they claim they would never do such a thing).
So what has this got to do with your sites?
One of the most common SEO mistakes I see is when people try to get their root domain (index page) ranking for a whole set of unrelated keyterms. Lets say you had a skateboarding website that sells skateboards, skateboard trucks, skateboard wheels and skateboard decks. A lot of people will now think, “brilliant, these are my sectors, so I’ll build links to my website” and they will go on their merry way and try and get people to link to their site with “skateboard wheels”, “skateboard trucks” and all other variations of keyterms.
This will confuse the poor Googlebot…
What happens if you build all your links to root page
Poor old Googlebot can read your page content, but then gets confused when other websites are essentially telling it the content is actually somewhere else. The result will be, your index page will rank poorly for most keyterms and your internal pages will have no PageRank and will drop into the supplemental results.
What happens when you build links correctly
When Googlebot can see your content and it is backed up by relevant links, you’ll get more pages in the index, less keyword cannibalization and your site will be stronger positioned to rank well for a variety of keyterms.
I found the parallel between these problems of link building and Google Bombing interesting and to me it highlights the importance of being specific and trying to make things as easy for the bots (and at the end of the day – the user!) as possible
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