The 2006 campaign is about to be "Google-bombed." Both liberal and conservative bloggers have embarked on plans to manipulate the Google search engine so that negative articles about the candidates they oppose appear near the top, potentially influencing undecided voters.
Liberal bloggers had the idea first. Chris Bowers of MyDD outlined the strategy Sunday. He said the plan involves purchasing "Google AdWords that will place each negative article on the most common searches for each Republican candidate. Simultaneously, I will produce an article on MyDD that embeds that negative article into a hyperlink."
Bowers asked bloggers to help add links, and they spent the next few days compiling negative news articles on Republican candidates in about 50 targeted races.
Conservative blogger John Hawkins of Right Wing News learned of the strategy and urged his allies to "fight fire with fire." Hawkins expressed concern the Google-bombing campaign just might work for Democrats.
"Who would be doing a Google search on a particular candidate in the final days of a campaign?" he wrote. "Probably an independent voter who is trying to get more information about a candidate. And if the first article he runs across is a brutal hit piece, well, that could be the information that helps him make up his mind."
Pete Leyden, director of the Democratic think tank the New Politics Institute, just published advice on search-engine strategy. "It will definitely work," he said. "So few people are buying political search ads [that] a blogger can get it for literally pennies per eyeball."
"It's a very smart move," Leyden said.
Jeff Mascott of Rightclick Strategies, who advises clients about online strategies, said buying Google AdWords and placing them "is a very cost-effective way in reaching an individual." But he also said that with Google updating its search criteria every 30 days, the Google-bombing campaign likely would not work in time for the election.
Mike Connell of Connell Donatelli Inc., online strategists for conservative candidates, agreed. "It may not be too little, but it may be too late," Connell said.
Google is not thrilled by the idea. "We don't condone the practice of Google-bombing or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results," spokesman Ricardo Reyes said. He added that such campaigns are not impossible but are unlikely to be effective given the complexity of the Google search algorithm.
Before the bombing campaign, a Google search of Sen. George Allen, R-Va., found a Washington Post article about of his alleged racially disparaging remark just below his campaign Web site in ranking. A search of Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., also found mostly negative articles among the top 10 sites anyway.
Kari Chisholm, a Democratic new media strategist for one of Burns' opponents who lost in the Democratic primary, doubts that the Google-bombing campaign will be very useful. "It's not about chasing the 1 percent of voters that haven't figured out there's a difference between [Democrat] Jon Tester and Burns," Chisholm said.