Earlier this week, Rick Santorum stunned political observers and made Mitt Romney soil his $5,000 suit after a trifecta of presidential primary wins. People who purportedly know a lot about such things say that the victories don’t matter much due to delegate counts and yada yada yada, but Santorum’s upset certainly gave the arch-conservative’s campaign a huge momentum boost and turned the primary process on its head. And yet, as Santorum celebrated on Tuesday night—no doubt with a chilled bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider—he had to know that when everyone woke up on Wednesday and Googled “Santorum,” they would still find a page about anal sex before getting to the candidate’s actual site, a problem that has plagued Santorum for nearly a decade.
More than the confusion over his daughter’s hospitalization at CHOP, the mockery of another daughter crying hysterically and awkwardly during his 2006 Senate concession speech, and the brouhaha over Mrs. Santorum and the abortion doctor combined, the one thing that’s gotta annoy the
hell heck out of Santorum the most is spreadingsantorum.com, the website started in 2003 by syndicated columnist/gay rights advocate Dan Savage. On the site, Savage redefined “santorum” as a noun, “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex,” and launched a campaign to spread this usage throughout the Internet.
A very successful campaign.
Countless Santorum-hating bloggers linked to the site, Major media outlets did the same. More than 76,000 people “liked” it on Facebook, and Savage and his more web-savvy followers used Internet coding tricks to create what has become known as a “Google bomb.” The prank site pops up first in Google search results, above the official ricksantorum.com, unless you have your Google search set to filter out the most objectionable of content (even Google’s “moderate” SafeSearch setting allows the site to pop up in search results.) And since most people automatically click on the first result and since Google considers which site is clicked on first as part of its algorithm to determine relevancy and, thus, position, well, the whole thing has led to one big, embarrassing marketing and public relations nightmare for America’s “family values” candidate.
Last year, Santorum asked Google to ban the site from search results, but Google said absolutely not, since the site isn’t illegal and doesn’t violate any of their policies. “Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web,” said a spokesperson in response to the candidate’s demand. “Users who want content removed from the Internet should contact the webmaster of the page directly.” Savage has said he won’t budge unless Santorum makes a $5 million-plus donation to a gay marriage group, an offer the presidential candidate would likely never accept.
So what can Santorum do?
I asked Lance Bachmann, a 38-year-old multimillionaire CEO of 1SEO.com, the Philadelphia region’s leading Internet marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) outfit, to review traffic data for both sites.
“Spreading Santorum is kicking the shit out of Rick Santorum,” he observed. “And if Santorum was my client and asked me to get him to number one prior to Election Day in November, I would laugh in his face. It cannot be done. And anyone who says otherwise is lying.”
Bachmann explains that due in part to the high ranking of the prank site, the huge number of links to it, and the length of time that it has been around, a quick fix is impossible, short of so-called “black hat” SEO techniques that Bachmann declined to discuss except to say that his company never uses them and that if a rogue programmer did use them to affect the ranking of a given site, said site could be banned from Google for all eternity.
But, says the CEO, with a long-term, well-planned strategy that would include building many thousands of credible sites to link to the official site and getting well-established sites (like, say, Drudge) to link directly to the official site using the proper coding techniques, a fix is possible in time for a potential Santorum bid in 2016. It’s a contract that Bachmann says he’d accept, though he’s quick to point out that he couldn’t necessarily get Spreading off of page one, just out of the top position—and there are no guarantees.
I remain unconvinced. Bachmann clearly knows his stuff, and I’ll be the first to admit that the whole SEO nut is one I don’t think I’ll ever crack. But there are a lot of computer savants out there with way too much time on their hands. And four years just sounds like an awfully long time to see results. Santorum opponent Newt Gingrich recently made news (and got a lot of heat) when he proposed a $30 million reward to anyone who could get a robot on the moon. Something tells me if a wealthy Santorum benefactor put up $1 million to anyone who could (legally) blow up Spreading or at least move it down a notch or two in a couple of months, candidate Santorum might finally be able to put this whole, um, mess behind him.
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