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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 11:05 GMT
Google hit by link bombers
Google screen grab, Google
Popular search site Google is being exploited by some net users to mount protests and play jokes on their friends.

The users have found a way to "bomb" Google to improve the rankings of particular webpages, and ensure a site is near the top of the results for particular search phrases.

Before now Google's method of ranking webpages was thought to make it largely immune to the tactics that many businesses use to improve their position in web searches.

Some fear it is only a matter of time before businesses start using the bombing tactic to influence their standing in search results.

Bombing run

Like many other search engines, Google regularly crawls the entire web to find out just what is out there in cyberspace.

But, unlike some other search engines, Google does not trust webpages to accurately summarise what they are about.

Instead of just looking for keywords, Google also ranks a page's importance by the number of other sites that link to it and the phrases they use to describe the link.

A page that a lot of people have found useful on a particular subject will be ranked higher than one that no one else refers to.

Google also rates new webpages and links higher than old sites and referrals.

By exploiting both these working methods, some net citizens have found a way to artificially influence the rankings of the webpages that Google returns when people search for certain phrases.

First strike

The practice of influencing Google in this way was first mooted by Adam Mathes last year.

Mr Mathes runs a weblog, an online journal of his thoughts and interesting links he has found.

He first used a bomb to ensure that whenever anyone typed the phrase "talentless hack" into Google they got the site of his friend Andy Pressman.

Daniel Pearl, Ap
Plight of murdered journalist highlighted with Google bombs
The idea of Google-bombing has been taken up by the weblogging community.

It has started to use the tactic to mount protests and fight the unfair influence some organisations and individuals have about what is said about them online.

There are now many hundreds of net users who maintain online journals and it is through their collaboration that the bombs can work.

Famous name

If a few hundred blogs host the same link and describe it in the same way then, as far as Google is concerned, the page they refer to is likely to be a good resource on that subject.

Because many weblogs always put favourite links on their front page, the links stay current and Google ranks them higher as a result.

Blogger David Gallagher has set out to use a bomb to become the most famous David Gallagher on the net.

Others have used the bombs to highlight the plight of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, to raise awareness about unscrupulous companies exploiting the web for marketing purposes, and to combat bias by some religious groups.

Net analysis site Corante has explored the workings of Google bombs in depth.

See also:

14 Jan 02 | dot life
Shopping and clicking
22 Jan 01 | dot life
The tricks that win clicks
06 Aug 01 | Business
Google profitable, new chief says
14 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Digital history saved
15 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Half the internet is going nowhere
26 Nov 01 | dot life
Pop go the adverts
04 Feb 02 | dot life
I blog, therefore I am
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