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Political Organizations Manipulating SERPs - can Google combat that?

 5:32 pm on Oct 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

I read an article today about a political organization starting a "Grassroots SEO" campaign in an effort to manipulate the SERPs. Their basic idea is to have their members link to positive articles for their candidates and negative articles for the opponents.

Here's a small quote about their strategy.

...not only is it possible for us to use our hyperlinks to impact what people find when they search for information on candidates, but we would be foolish not to do so in a way that benefited our preferred candidates. We are already impacting search engine rankings whenever we post any hyperlink anywhere, so we need to make sure the way we use hyperlinks helps result in our preferred political outcomes.

Do you think Google has the ability to fight this type of search engine spam? Even if they know the exact pages the organization is targeting, how could Google know which links were valid and which links were spam from the organizations members?



 12:15 am on Oct 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

Waste of time. A spike in links can mean sudden popularity or artificial link building. Since Google watches link growth over time these types of spikes, and their resulting links, fade out relatively quickly. Perhaps if they wrote positive articles two years or more ago and have linked to them steadily since then it would show some benefits, but I doubt they did.


 1:16 am on Oct 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

Right on dude....this isnt the 1994 wild west internet days. Back then you could post loads of links, rank fast, etc. It dosent work that way anymore. It takes considerable time for a link to gain the proper weight to rank your site. And as kickaxe said, a big spike in links is grounds for a site ban. Google knows all.


 6:00 am on Oct 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

Google knows all.

Which is why spam has been completely eliminated from the SERPs! ;)


 5:00 pm on Oct 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

The rub is that they're linking to someone else's content. They look for pages that are already ranking in the SERPs (positions 10-100) then have all their members point a link to that content. So who does Google penalize? The site that posted the original content even though that site had nothing to do with the link building? Or would they penalize the site that is organizing the link building?


 5:08 pm on Oct 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

The site that posted the original content even though that site had nothing to do with the link building? Or would they penalize the site that is organizing the link building?

you will never know the true answer for that question.


 6:40 am on Oct 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

As an Australian, I have no interest in US politics (or ours, for that matter).

Treating this purely as an SEO observation, I think the writer has shot himself in the foot by publicly announcing it. Had it been something in a Democrat member newsletter only, it might have taken longer to be found out and had some traction.

California has a large number of Democrat voters and it is possible that people in the Googleplex might choose to look the other way. If the responsible people there are totally professional about it, they will treat it as a nice public experiment to watch and take action if necessary. For all I know, this has been happening on both sides for years.

I don't know of the writer but the SEO advice isn't particularly brilliant. He isn't using anchor text to best effect. Sending link love to major news sites may also boost the positive stories about the Republicans and negative ones about Democrats.

By showing such tactics to the Republican SEOs, what's to say that a more effective campaign won't be mounted in return. They just need to send some people to Pubcon and they could pick up any number of real experts who could write a complete counter-strategy.

I anticipate that very few ranking changes will occur. Perhaps someone who loves politics could monitor a few candidates and report back to us later this year.


 5:28 pm on Oct 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm not sure I agree that this constitutes spam. These folks are linking to content that they genuinely endorse in the attempt to give that content more exposure. That they are doing it in an organized fashion doesn't necessarily make it spam. It's not their content, so their links actually constitute a genuine external endorsement of the content.


 9:28 am on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I am with @freejung if an activist group decides to campaign for a particular individual it is an editorial choice to support some one.

It would be very dangerous for any search engine to start handing out penalties as this could have very serious blowback from both politicians and old media who of course are not search engines best friends (maybe Google and MS need to own a few newspapers)

Just because the "line" is link to site x with these keywords doesn't make it spam. Say Ian Dale (a Tory blogger) asked his readers to support his campaign to become an mp for example.

How is this different from leafleting or knocking up on the day of an election.

Btw for those of you not into politics the "line" in the  political sense is the agreed policy line. and "knocking up" is not getting your secretary pregnant (ala Parkinson) but making sure your supporters vote on the day. 


 3:32 pm on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

What makes it look like search engine spam to me is that it's not "natural". The members of the organization didn't come to the idea of linking independently. Someone is influencing their behavior. It is an organized effort to manipulate the SERPs.

Anyway, I was just curious how Google would feel about the practice and if they could combat it. Would they feel the same if a company sent out notices to all their customers that if they give a link back to their site they get a 10% discount on their next order?


 4:23 pm on Oct 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

What makes it look like search engine spam to me is that it's not "natural". The members of the organization didn't come to the idea of linking independently. Someone is influencing their behavior.

So what? People influence each other's behavior all the time, particularly in politics. If you want to try to filter out all signals for which someone was influenced in some way by someone else, you're going to have a heck of a job on your hands.

It's still a human endorsement, which is what Google is looking for. It's still a person deciding, for whatever reason, that they want to promote particular content by linking to it to make it more popular. The algo is designed to give higher rankings to content that is more popular. It doesn't really matter _why_ it is popular, whether it's for political or aesthetic or social reasons, whether it's because you came up with the idea on your own or were led by someone else.

Indeed, I bet if you analyzed it, one of the most common reasons why something becomes popular is that someone in a leadership position in some organization tells their followers to read it, like it, share it etc.


 2:42 pm on Oct 14, 2010 (gmt 0)


well it's natural in terms of politics - that's how it works you campaign to get people to agree with and support you. and part of that is getting them to do something this was the inovation that bluestate digital managed for Obama.

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