A googlebomb is when a group of people get together trying to push a site up the Google rankings… a site which seemingly doesn't belong there. To do that, they all use the same link text when linking to the specific site – trying to make Google think the words in the link are indeed relevant to the page.
Probably the most well-known "Googlebomb" was for the phrase miserable failure. It would lead to the official biography of President George W. Bush on the White House servers. The effect is particularly convincing when you ask people to first enter miserable failure, and then press the "I'm feeling lucky" button; they will be referred to the top result directly, and some even thought Google expressed political beliefs here. Of course that's not true – Google only created the algorithms that now run automatically, and from time to time, get abused to discredit people or organizations. Google's only editorial decision in cases like these is to display small disclaimers close to googlebombed search results, and educate people on what's happening. A reply posted to their official Google Blog1 was:
We don't condone the practice of googlebombing, 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.
But the failure bomb against George Bush (which was quickly receiving a counter-googlebomb targeting director Michael Moore) wasn't the first one to appear on the search scene. Adam Mathes of the Über blog is credited with the invention of the Googlebomb. In his blog on April 6, 2001, he wrote:
Today, uber readers, you have a chance to make history.
Or at least legitimize some new jargon I'm about to make up.
Today's jargon of the day is:
Adam continued to explain the philosophy behind Googlebombs, which was backriding on the philosophy of Google itself:
In a bizarre surreal bow to the power of perception on the web, what you say about a page becomes just as important as the actual content of the page. The page must be what other people say it is. That Google adheres to this rule and is by far the most effective search engine raises many interesting issues, none of which I will attempt to discuss or explicate.
Now Google is smart, simply having tons of the same links with the same phrase on a single page will do nothing. It requires a multitude of pages to have that link with specific link text. But this power can be harnessed with a concentrated group effort.
Adam was only interested in pulling off a prank – a political agenda didn't have anything to do with it. So, he urged his readers to googlebomb his friend Andy Pressman with the words "talentless hack." And thus Googlebombs were born.
Of course, it didn't stop there. Not only did Googlebombs work, they were also becoming an effective tool in web propaganda.
"Weapons of mass destruction" was a Googlebomb criticizing the US Iraq politics. Because when you searched for this phrase in Google and hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button, the following page looked just like a normal "Document not found" page. But if you were to look closely, you noticed it read:
(A similar approach had been used as target for the words "Arabian Gulf," which returns a "The Gulf You Are Looking For Does Not Exist. Try Persian Gulf" message in the style of typical document-not-found pages.)
Yet another politically motivated Googlebomb was for "French military victories." When you clicked "I'm feeling lucky," the result page looked just like Google itself, and – mimicking the Google spelling suggestion tool – asked: "Did you mean: french military defeats." (In similar vein, another Googlebomb for "anti-war peace protesters" suggested "Did you mean: anti-war violent protesters.")
"Liar" was the word used in a Googlebomb against UK's Prime Minister. Entering it into Google brought you to a biography of Tony Blair, who was also involved in the Iraq war and, like George Bush, believed the reports on Weapons of Mass Destruction were accurate. Tony Blair was also the target of a Googlebomb campaign trying to connect the word "poodle" to him (it was less successful, but if you restrict your search to UK sites only it might still return Blair's homepage today).
Ken Jacobson's "waffles" campaign was a Googlebomb against United States Senator and Presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry, leading to his official homepage. In response to that, Kerry supporters bought advertisements on related Google search results urging searchers to "read about President Bush's Waffles."
"Litigious bastards" was one of the more rude Googlebombs. Its target? The SCO Group, infamous for its attempt to sue companies like IBM and others who used Linux, as well as Linux users, and its claim to own intellectual property rights to the Unix operating system. As far as the campaign's target goes, the Googlebomb was a success and managed to propel the SCO homepage to a number 1 spot for the phrase "litigious bastards." As is the fate of many Googlebombs, this one has disappeared by now due to search result rankings undergoing constant changes.
"Buffone," another Googlebomb, is Italian for "clown" and was trying to make fun of Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime minister.
Today, there are simply too many Googlebombs around at any given time to keep track of them all. Many people try to start new ones, and only some are successful. Others manage to connect their target to the search phrase they chose, but that isn't always the hard part. In fact, for many search phrases it's trivial to make any page to be the top result in Google; this is always the case when the phrase is not competitive. However, it's not as easy to get people to react on the Googlebomb, let alone take notice. And even if people take notice, they might start to counter-googlebomb, which then turns this into a rather meaningless power game of which campaign attracts more followers to use link text as needed.
1. The Google Blog. (www.55fun.com/32.1)
2. Über – Better than you, daily. (www.55fun.com/32.2)