Search Engine ‘Bombs’

This week, Politico reported that the Daily Kos, a left-leaning blog, was attempting to derail 98 House Republican candidates’ election bids by digging up controversial news stories about them and then asking the Daily Kos’ readers to link to and blog about those stories. The strategy, known as a “Google bomb,” would in turn boost these controversial stories’ ratings on search engines, placing them near the top of the search results where voters could find them more easily.
Sure it’s an ethically questionable tactic, but it’s arguably inventive too. But after conducting a bit of research (a Google search, mind you) I found the use of the Google bomb was not as innovative as I originally thought.  There’s even a book dedicated to the subject!
Since the 1990s, Google bombing has been used not just for political gains but also by individuals to tarnish a company’s image or brand. One of the more famous examples took place  in 1999 when a search for “more evil than Satan” returned results to Microsoft’s Website. Interestingly, Google bombs have also been used to achieve the opposite effect — to swiftly promote a company by boosting its Google ranking.
For example, in 2002, a blogger suggested that her father would be willing to pay to have his Website Google bombed in order to land the number one search result for “Santa Cruz real estate.”  While Google said that it had modified the site’s algorithms in 2007 to diffuse Google bombs, the tactic has been used successfully since.
Additionally, the practice known as “spamdexing,” is on the rise. The term is used when promoters of a product post links and associated search terms onto low-traffic Internet forums in order to increase the posted site’s rating under those listed search terms.
In my opinion, Google bombing and spamdexing allow companies to circumvent the typical process of growing an authentic, genuine following. Looking for a quick fix to rise to the top, they employ Google bombs and spamdexing as a means to artificially boost their rankings. And those rankings are  just that — artificial.
As PR professionals, we all understand that SEO is an important component of a company or product’s promotion, but at what cost? Is there an ethical line  crossed by “Google bombing” or “spamdexing” or is all of this fair game?
On another note, do you think these tactics constitute something all major companies’ PR teams should prepare for in case they become a target?
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