Can a Google bomb win an election? With the upcoming election in the
United States just weeks away and one political party facing major
losses, the Daily Kos, a popular liberal blog, is turning to Google to
help Democratic candidates.

The plan: organize a Google bomb to direct voters to the most disparaging articles about Republican candidates.

A post by Daily Kos blogger Chris Bowers, who used the same technique in 2006, explains:

…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.

Of course, this techniques Bowers is using to “impact what people find when they search for information on candidates” are technically against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which include the following ‘rules‘:

Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

So will Google do anything about Daily Kos’ behavior? Not surprisingly, Republican supporters expect nothing less. “If you do not delist Daily Kos for this behavior you call unethical, then you have a partisan political bias,” Neil Stevens writes at RedState, a popular conservative blog.

Obviously, politics always involves many cans of worms, and that’s the case here. On one hand, the Daily Kos is a popular blog, so it seems unlikely that Google would drop the entire site from its index. After all, violation or not, the Daily Kos’ “Grassroots SEO” scheme doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the site’s content is suddenly illegitimate or irrelevant. On the other hand, the Daily Kos is supporting a scheme that clearly violates Google’s guidelines.

Complicating matters further is the fact that Bowers and company are planning to use Google AdWords as part of their campaign. So Google will have a financial relationship with the very people who seek to manipulate the SERPs via forbidden means.

All of this puts Google in a tough spot. So what should it do? In my opinion, the most important thing to note here is that the Daily Kos is operating out in the open. It isn’t simply violating Google’s guidelines, it’s doing so publicly and apparently isn’t concerned about the possibility of a Google smack down. From this perspective, the Daily Kos is effectively saying “We don’t care about Google. It won’t enforce its guidelines.

That’s a problem for Google. If large publishers feel that Google doesn’t have the will power to enforce its rules against them, and that they can openly seek to manipulate the SERPs with impunity, Google had better think long and hard about how it will maintain the quality and integrity of its search results. For its part, Google has previously taken a hands-off approach because of its confidence in its algorithm’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. But it might want to think long and hard about that too, as some of that confidence is clearly misplaced.