Does Google Bombing Still Work?
In researching this article, I knew what "Google Bombing" was but I was surprised to see so many different definitions. Stephanie Buck gives a concise definition, "The most well-known tactic involves linking a specific term to a specific site as many times as possible all over the Internet."
One of the most well known Google bombs was from a few years ago when you searched "miserable failure" and found George Bush's WhiteHouse.gov biography.
The idea is that with enough links (or maybe brand mentions?) you can push any site up in the search results, even if the phrase you're targeting doesn't exist on that page.
Here is how it happened to me, twice.
Like I always do when I start with a new client, I ask them some basic questions so I can get to know them. Who are you, is your LinkedIn profile current, what would you like to see online, etc.
My new client told me that he worked for DD4 Advertising (name changed of course). I made notes and moved on. His LinkedIn profile said "DD4" and nothing else so I clicked the link and found DD4 had like 50 employees on LinkedIn. I searched the website but couldn't find a bio or profile for any of the executives.
When we published biographies, interviews and other content, we talked about DD4. He approved all the content, which included links to DD4.
Two months go by and he sends me an email asking me to remove the content about DD4 that he doesn't work there. I looked back at my initial notes and his LinkedIn profile and asked him to explain. He said DD4 Advertising is different than DD4. DD4 Advertising is a small company that is him and his brother, this other DD4 is something totally different!
We made all of the appropriate changes and a few weeks go by and he tells me that DD4's website (the other company) is on the first page for his name. I checked and sure enough, there was DD4 at #6. Not on the homepage, nor the entire domain had any mention of his first or last name. It was ranking purely based on the fact that we mentioned it and linked to it in a bunch of interviews as well as other contextual content.
The second time was just a test. After seeing my client's results, I wanted to see it first hand. I picked a random name that had 0 exact match results in Google and fired up GSA SER and started building a few links. It took about a month and the target site was ranking #4. My GSA SER links were filling up the rest of the search results and I couldn't move the target site any higher than #4 in the coming weeks.
This was a little different than my client for two reasons:
- It was much easier. The phrase had 0 exact match results and there was no competition.
- No name/brand mentions. For this test I didn't take the time to have interviews written and published nor any other content that would be seen as higher quality. Just the GSA SER links.
Why does this still work?
That's a great question. The first instance I could find was from 1999. That's plenty of time for Google to adjust the algorithm to ensure this doesn't happen, but they never did.
Something so obvious makes me wonder why they never did make that seemingly simple change. I think I know the answer.
If Google takes a manual action to address a problem it says the algorithm is too flawed and it opens the door for additional manual actions that solve a problem that is best solved algorithmically.
We know Google takes manual actions, but those are usually against a website, sometimes against a specific search term (remember the payday loan SERPs?), but not unless they've tried everything else.
What's in store for the future?
My best guess is that we'll continue along of the trend that eventually leads to a few manual actions, but primarily enhancements and changes to the algorithm. The main takeaway for most people in SEO and ORM is that link building is a very effective strategy and if you can find a way to build and harness the power of millions of links, you can directly manipulate the SERPs.