SEO has introduced people to many terms and techniques. Google bombing is just one of them.
So what is Google bombing? Is it a new link building technique?
Well, not exactly.
The strategy has been around a long time but didn’t have a name when it first came to prominence. Probably because it was nothing but a method for launching mean-spirited jokes when SEOs first caught glimpse of it.
Nobody knew it would turn into an actual SEO strategy.
In this post, we’ll look at Google bombing and how it works. Then we’ll see if it’s still a viable SEO strategy today.
Will Google bombing work for you? Is it something you should pursue?
Continue reading this post to find out.
What Is Google Bombing?
Let’s start with the most obvious question.
What is Google bombing?
The term Google bombs—also known as link bombs and Googlewashing—goes by different spelling variations (Googlebombs, Googlebombing) and meanings.
At first, Google bombs were defined as pranks that people would pull to make a page rank for an unrelated term.
Eventually, that definition changed to something more serious. It’s now considered a technique used to elevate a website’s placement in search engines artificially using specific terms and phrases.
The best way to explain Google bombs is by using an example.
Say you have an acquaintance named Chuck. You hate Chuck. And so you want the world to know that Chuck is a doofus.
So what’s the best way of doing that? How about having Chuck’s name and website be the first result whenever people Google search the term “world’s biggest doofus”. Wouldn’t that be nice?
There’s just one problem. Obviously, Chuck wouldn’t write he’s the world’s biggest doofus on his personal website. Why would he? Google wouldn’t have any reason to rank Chuck’s site for that keyword.
So you gather all your friends and post blogs and write comments. Then using the anchor text “world’s biggest doofus”, you link all posts back to Chuck’s domain. It’s only a matter of time before Google sees all the links and associates Chuck’s site with the term you want it to rank for.
Soon the world will see Chuck’s name when they search for the world’s biggest doofus.
That’s Google bombing in a nutshell. And you’ve probably seen it in action before.
Remember when Microsoft was the top result when users searched for the term “more evil than Satan” back in 1999?
Or how about when George W. Bush ranked for “dumb motherfucker” around the time of the 2000 U.S. elections?
These are only a few instances of Googlebombing being used to discredit or make fun of people and corporations.
Famous Google Bombs
A lot more people fell victim to Google bombings before the search engine finally caught on (more on that later).
Here are just a few.
A blogger named Adam Mathes is credited as the originator of Google Bombing. He used the technique to troll his friend, Andy.
Image courtesy of Trenchant (Adam Mathes’ archive site)
His goal was to have his friend’s name show up when users searched for the term “talentless hack”.
After a few months, the strategy has worked. John Hiler, a writer for MicroContent News, picked up the story.
Soon after, BBC wrote a piece about Google getting hit by link bombers. Other outlets soon followed suit and the rest is history.
You can read the entire story, in Adam’s own words, in a post he wrote about his 15 minutes of internet fame.
President George W. Bush has been the target of Google bombing more than once.
The former president had also been a target for pranksters who drove Bush to rank for the term “miserable failure”.
Image courtesy of Know Your Meme
Miserable failure came to prominence during Bush’s second term run. This would come to be known as one of the most famous Google bombs of all time.
When users (at the time) searched for the term, they’d see the first entry in the SERPs to be that of the president’s biography on the official White House website.
Scientology came under attack when people targeted their homepage to rank for the term “dangerous cult”.
Image courtesy of Search Engine People
This Google bomb came a few years after the whole “miserable failure” fiasco. At the time, it was thought that Google was already able to address Google bombing as a practice through changes to their algorithm.
The group Anonymous was credited for the attack. They described their actions as an organized and orchestrated internet campaign.
How Google Bombing Works
Earlier, you were given a brief overview of how people Google bomb someone.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the mechanics of it.
The whole objective of Google bombing is to manipulate search engines into associating a specific term with a target page. You’re deliberately confusing different ranking signals to make this happen.
Unfortunately, we’re unable to check the backlinks of all the examples we’ve given. Ahrefs is only able to go back as far as 2015. The first incidents of Google bombing happened more than a decade ago.
What we can do is look at the SEO contests that inspired these bombings.
“Contests,” you ask?
It takes a lot of resources to make Google bombing work. Pranksters knew they didn’t have enough manpower to pull off their attacks. So they had to be creative.
They would hand out prizes to entice people to partake in their Google bomb attempts. The contestants would then perform black hat practices to get the target pages to rank for unrelated terms.
DarkBlue launched an SEO contest sometime in May 2004. They encouraged users to rank their sites for the term “nigritude ultramarine” using whatever means necessary. They offered two prizes:
- The “player” prize was an Apple Mini Pod (which was valued at $249 during the time). It was given to whoever was ranked first in the SERPs one month after the competition commenced.
- The “stayer” prize was a Sony Flat Screen monitor ($549). This was awarded to whoever has the number one spot by July 1.
- Both prizes are awarded to anyone who can manage to be both player and stayer.
The contest was popular with the SEO community. Many gave their all to win.
SmugMug was one of the many companies that tried its luck. It encouraged its users to link back to the site using the term “nigritude ultramarine”.
It even has a dedicated page for the campaign.
SmugMug, however, would go on to lose the contest. The winner was a guy named Anil Dash.
What probably set Anil apart was the fact that he had an actual copy. As Search Engine Watch pointed out, some of the other entries were nothing but gibberish.
Anil also appealed to his readers to link back to his website and made a simple case as to why they should do so.
Other sites tried to launch their own contests in the same spirit as DarkBlue such as this one from SEO Logs.
But in the end, the winner was the same person who ran the contest, Jeremy Schoemaker. He did end up giving away the prize to the runner-up.
In most cases, the winners relied on link building to bring home the bacon.
Does Google Bombing Still Work Today?
There are more recent incidents of Google bombing. It still pops up once in a while. Though the methods are slightly different.
For example, back in 2015 users were able to search for the term “n**ga house” and have the White House appear on Google Maps.
During that time, Barack Obama was the sitting U.S. president.
So yes, Google bombs still work. But only for a time.
Google’s algorithm changes to kill all attacks. At first, it took them a while to take action like when “miserable failure” was trending.
In the official Google Webmaster Blog, it admitted that it hasn’t been taking the issue seriously.
It figured that these Google bombs were not that disruptive to the overall user experience. Google felt that the most relevant pages are still appearing where they should.
In a New York Times article, a Google representative said that no user was getting hurt by these Google bombs.
Also, they thought that the terms that are ranking are off the beaten path. Meaning users would have to go out of their way to see the results they’re looking for.
But it did eventually work to minimize the effects of Google bombs.
One of the reasons why it decided to fight back was due to people thinking that the company was purposefully ranking these pages which is not the case.
Users have accused the search engine of having a political agenda. So they updated the algorithm to correct the misperception.
Google Bombing and SEO
As you may have guessed, Google bombing is a black hat SEO strategy.
They’re used for ranking unsuspecting victims for keywords that they don’t want to be associated with. They can be used by black hat specialists to rank a competitor for porn or drug-related queries.
Just look at this one example.
Someone targeted a college essay site and tried to rank it for a malicious keyword.
And you’ve already seen how it’s being used to target politicians like the 2015 attack on Obama that we mentioned earlier.
No matter how much you drop Google bombs, the algorithm finds a way to fix the results.
In fact, if you Google all the terms we mentioned in this post, you’ll find that the pages that used to rank are no longer there.
Instead, all you’ll find are articles about Google bombing or sites that discuss the incident in articles and blog posts.
The same Google Webmaster blog post we mentioned earlier confirms this.
It’s hard to launch a Google bomb campaign today.
There are constant algorithm changes that help keep SERPs useful. These kill pages that don’t provide relevant information about the search phrase entered.
Plus, you have to build bad backlinks on all your competitor domains. That is no easy feat.
That’s why we suggest that you pour all your time and energy into creating quality backlinks to your site. It’s just not worth messing with your competitors.
And since black hat tactics rarely last, it’s just not worth the energy.
Churn and Burn: SEO’s Version of Google Bombing
But what if you really want to do it?
What if you don’t care that it only works for a short period of time?
What if your heart is set on doing Google bombs?
Well, you can certainly try. You can run with it and rank a website until they get devalued in the SERPs.
You can use the principle behind Google bombing and instead of ranking competitors, you rank your own pages and make money off of that.
This updated version of Google bombing is called Churn and Burn.
Here, you’ll create websites and build lots of backlinks in a short period of time. Your goal is to get these sites to rank on Google as fast as possible.
Note: While both articles had been updated as of 2019, do keep in mind that the original pieces were published a while back.
Here’s how there were able to pull it off:
- Choose a niche by finding the right keywords to rank for. You can use the Google Keyword Planner to accomplish this step.
- Register a domain name that’s a partial or exact match to the keyword you selected.
- Build your homepage using HTML as much as possible. For example, use HTML tables instead of relying on images. Google can’t read images. Woodward copied content from other sites and used them on the remaining pages. His only concern was ranking the homepage.
- Use tools like GSA SER, a virtual private server, and proxies to generate backlinks. Matthew also used Kontent Machine to generate content.
You can refer to Matthew Woodward’s blog for the specifics of his strategy.
Google bombing is kind of outdated at this point.
However, churn and burn is still a viable option.
By blasting your way through SERPs using backlinks, you can get a website to rank for search terms using link building tactics.
Be aware that once the website is devalued by Google, it’s game over for your site. You’ll be forced to move on to other projects when that time comes.
So whether you’re doing Google bombs or churn and burn, proceed with caution.