March 2, 2012 at 1:36 PM ET
Rick Santorum's infamous "Google problem," which began eight years ago after the-then Pennsylvania senator angered equal rights activists by equating gay marriage to the legal union between a man and a dog, may be subsiding.
Spreading Santorum -- the website that redefines "santorum" as the very graphic byproduct of a specific sex act, is no longer the No. 1 result for Google searches on Santorum's name, reports Danny Sullivan, SearchEngineLand's longtime chronicler of all things Santorum.
In fact, the original Spreading Santorum website isn't even in Google's first page of results -- though you will find a link to the less graphic blog that uses the same name.
Launched by Dan Savage following Santorum's offending interview with the Associated Press, Spreading Santorum quickly became the top search return via savvy search engine optimization (SEO) techniques and a network of links created by like-minded protesters of the politician. Eventually, SpreadingSantorum.com became the top search result on Bing, Yahoo and Chinese search engine Baidu.
In the past, Google refused appeals from Santorum's representatives to remove SpreadingSantorum.com from the top search result for his name. Unlike pranks such as Google bombs (where jokesters create a large number of fatuous links to return an unrelated result) which Google will actively thwart, the site features content about Santorum (including the new definition of his last name), and as such does not qualify as Google bomb.
(You may remember the "George Bush" Google bomb that returned "Miserable failure" as the top result -- Google eventually tweaked its algorithm to return more relevant results – eventually, anyway.)
As SearchEngineLand cites, here's how Matt Cutts — a Google software engineer who was involved with the change — explained the difference awhile back:
“santorum” isn’t a Google bomb, it’s straight SEO. Here’s the difference. With a Googlebomb, you’re causing someone else’s site to rank. With SEO, you’re promoting your own site. So spreadingsantorum.com is promoting themselves for “santorum,” which is SEO….
So why is Spreading Santorum no longer No. 1? Sullivan provides Google's (apparently ongoing) statement on the topic, which he does his best to decode here:
Postscript: Google has sent this statement:
"We make more than 500 changes to our algorithms in a typical year, and with each of those changes sites will shuffle to different positions in our search results. We have not manually taken action to change the ranking of the site."
Postscript 2: Google tells me this is related to its improved SafeSearch algorithm, one of the other changes that was just announced. There’s no explanation yet about about why Spreading Santorum got hit while the Urban Dictionary page did not.
Postscript 3: Google says that the change even impacts results if you have SafeSearch set to off. In other words, even if you turn SafeSearch off — and should get no adult content filtered out — adult content may still be filtered out. That’s pretty weird.
Meanwhile, as Sullivan points out, the NSFW definition for "santorum" remains No. 1 at Bing, Yahoo and Baidu … but for how long? How long?!