Social media chatter and meme culture has become a major new form of political engagement in recent years.
For example, during the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26th 2016, over 17 million tweets specifically referring to the debate were sent, while on Facebook, there were almost 66 million interactions between people as they discussed the debate with each other, thus creating a grand total of 83 million social media interactions in the USA alone.
As for memes, do you remember when Ken Bone briefly became a thing? Have you found yourself saying 'bigly' since Donald Trump popularised the word? And speaking of Trump, have you heard about his tiny hands?
But in the days before social media and the rise of memes, internet savvy mischief-makers had to find other ways of trolling people far more powerful than them, and when George W. Bush was president, they found a rather clever way of doing this.
By creating links to Bush's profile on the official White House website, while using words like 'failure' or 'miserable failure' as the text in the link, they were able to get him ranking right at the top of Google's search results for the search term 'miserable failure'.
In fact, this worked across a wide range of search engines, as can be seen from the image below:
This technique become known as 'Googlebombing' and after receiving complaints about their supposed political bias, Google took action.
They manually altered the search results for the term 'miserable failure' so that George W. Bush was no longer the top result. Instead, the top result was a link to the wikipedia article about Googlebombing.
Google even felt the need to explain why they'd made this change in a post on their official blog back in 2005.
So, that was the end of that then, right?
Now, in 2017, it seems some people are trying to get Donald Trump's official website to also rank high on Google for the search term 'miserable failure' by sending backlinks to it while using those words as the link text.
While testing out some new search engine optimisation software, I stumbled across the following interesting tidbit; 1714 pages on 120 individual websites are linking to Donald Trump's website while using the link text 'miserable failure'.
Zoomed in image:
For the curious, here are some of the websites which link to Trump's website in this way:
As you can see, most of those websites don't look to be particularly high quality or authoritative. But has this tactic worked? Does Donald Trump's website now rank high on Google for the search term 'miserable failure'?
To find out, I'm going to use a Google Chrome plugin called Fatrank, which tells you where in Google the website you're currently on ranks for any keywords you choose.
So, let's go to www.donaldjtrump.com and use Fatrank to see where the website ranks for 'miserable failure'.
The 'Not in 100' text means that the website does not rank in the top 100 Google search results for the search term.
So, this seems to suggest that Google have either adjusted their algorithm to prevent Donald Trump's website ranking high for 'miserable failure' in the same way that George W. Bush's did, or they have manually removed Trump's website from the search results for this search term, just as they did for Bush.
Alternatively, it may be that the sites which link to Trump's website while using the words 'miserable failure' are simply too low quality to pass much 'link juice' and so are therefore unable to impact on the search rankings of the Trump website in any meaningful way.
I may also have discovered a similar force at work for another search term which it seems people have been trying to Googlebomb Donald Trump's website to the top of Google for.
Apparently, 5220 pages on 346 separate websites have linked to Trump's website while using the word 'wankpuffin'.
Zoomed in image:
Again, here is a snapshot of some of the websites which link to Trump's site while using this word:
By the way, if any of you are wondering what the word 'wankpuffin' actually means (and why wouldn't you be?), then this will explain all.
So, does the Trump website rank high on Google for the word 'wankpuffin'? Let's check Fatrank and see:
Again, Donald Trump's website doesn't rank in the top 100 search results for this term.
Also, back in November 2016, through a bit of clever internet magic, some pranksters managed to get Donald Trump's face and biography to appear whenever you Googled 'wankpuffin':
Whereas now, Trump's image is nowhere to be seen:
So again, it seems that Google has either taken some manual action, or altered their algorithm, to stop Donald Trump's image, biography and website from appearing near the top of their search results for the word 'wankpuffin'.
While certainly achieving the goal of making the search results more politically neutral, this change has undoubtedly had the side effect of making the internet a little less fun.
There's another thing worth noting though...
I also stumbled across this article on a very well-respected and highly authoritative website which links to Donald Trump's website while using the text 'pumped-up egotist'.
The 'dreamy idealist' text in that article links to Bernie Sanders' website, by the way. How do you feel about that, Bernie?
Although it appears to be only this 1 website which links to Trump's site while using the text 'a pumped-up egotist', the website in question (marketwatch.com) is a very authoritative one.
So, has it had any impact? Does Donald Trump's website now rank highly on Google for the search phrase 'pumped-up egotist'?
Why yes, it most certainly does!
And to prove it, I did a Google search for 'pumped-up egotist' and look what I found at the top of the third page of search results:
So, what does this all prove?
Firstly, the results (or lack of them) for the search terms 'miserable failure' and, in particular, for 'wankpuffin' show that Google seems to have carried on intervening in it's search results to prevent any of them from appearing politically biased, ever since it first counteracted the George W. Bush 'miserable failure' Googlebombing event.
It does however, seem from the 'pumped-up egoist' result, that political Googlebombing of this type is still possible, as long as you link to the website you're trying to Googlebomb from a high quality, very well-respected website in it's industry.
However, that is certainly NOT an instruction, guys and girls! Be good now!
Wow, that was fast...
Within a few hours of this post going live, it seems that Google took action. I wish I could claim that these two factors are related but it's definitely just a coincidence :)
At this time of writing, Donald Trump's website does NOT now show up in the top 100 search results for the search term 'pumped-up egotist'.
It seems that, once again, Google have intervened in their search results to prevent them from appearing politically biased.
It's very unlikely that a website as high-profile as Donald Trump's is would disappear entirely from the results of a Google search query like this unless Google themselves were taking drastic action, through either a manual or algorithmic adjustment.
Interestingly, Trump's website does still (at the time of writing) rank high on Google for the slightly different search term of 'a pumped-up egotist':
Will Google take action again and remove Trump's website from these search results entirely, as they have done before?
I'll keep an eye out, and keep this post updated as and when new developments take place.
UPDATE 2: (14/06/2017)
So, it seems that Donald Trump's website is back ranking for 'pumped-up egotist' again. Bigly.