Seattle sex columnist Dan Savage’s cruel, yet brilliant Web joke on Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum appears to have run its course after nearly nine years. As you may recall, Savage used his influence (and smart SEO tactics) to create a new definition of the word “santorum” to protest the politician’s views about homosexuality.

That definition and accompanying Web site rose to the top of rankings on Google, so any time someone conducted a search on the politician’s name they were reminded of Santorum’s stance.

Now, Savage writes that “Spreading Santorum” is no longer the top result. Conspiracy? Or did Santorum’s pleas to Google to change the embarrassing reference finally pay off?

Savage writes:

“They can remove Spreading Santorum from the search results—or it can fade away, thanks to algoribbon tweaks—and they can remove Urban Dictionary‘s definition too. But the damage is already done. No one has to Google “santorum” when they see a headline like “Santorum comes from behind in Alabama three-way.” Everyone gets the joke without anyone having to look it up. The new definition is out there. Mission accomplished.”

Interestingly, Santorum’s own official Web site did not reclaim the top spot, which now is a Wikipedia page explaining Savage’s Web joke. That’s followed by Rick Santorum’s Wikipedia page; a site called “Santorum Exposed;” and then Urban Dictionary’s sexually explicit definition of “santorum.”

Dan Savage

Spreading Santorum is now the sixth result, just behind the former Pennsylvania congressman’s official page.

SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan takes a deep dive on what happened with the Santorum search results, showing multiple before-and-after screen shots. Sullivan reports that the changes in search results occurred after Google tweaked its algorithm. They were not manually adjusted due to pressure from Santorum, the company said.

Sullivan has more details on how Savage pulled off perhaps one of the most successful SEO campaigns of all time in this post: Should Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem” Be Fixed?

Here are the top results that Google now returns when searching for the word “santorum.”

Comments

  • Agapifiied

    Is it necessary to have a brown splat and the definition for the slang word up at the top of the article? 

    • johnhcook

      Since the story was about the actual Web page and the definition created by Savage, I thought that it was worthwhile information to share in order to explain the issue. Thanks for the feedback. 

    • Agapifiied

      Hmm ok. Just please try to be mindful of the fact that some readers using the RSS feed have kids.. or just aren’t interested in reading about a frothy blend of poop and lube.

      • johnhcook

        Understood. Thanks again for the feedback. I actually chose not to choose the image as the ‘featured image’ on our home page, picking the photo of Dan Savage instead in order to avoid that situation. I was trying to be sensitive to that issue, while also explaining what was going on. I figured that those who were actually interested in the story would click through to it, and therefore were familiar with the topic and the sexually explicit nature of it.

      • Guest

        And some readers aren’t interested in reading about Microsoft.  The solution is not to click on it, let alone go out of your way to comment on it.  Not every news outlet has to cater to your sensitivity.  And your kids see worse after 30 minutes of TV.

  • Done

    Congrats on a totally vile post, including graphics and definitions, that has little to do with the supposed topic of this tech blog, but perhaps much do to with the political sensitivities of its writers. 

    I’ll take the hint and and remove this site from my bookmarks must-check list.

    • johnhcook

      Not everything we write or cover here will appeal to everyone, and I recognize that this topic is sexually explicit and politically charged. But I don’t think that means we shouldn’t cover it. Dan Savage is a well known figure in Seattle having an impact on one of the most prominent politicians, using pretty interesting social media and SEO tactics to get his message across. That’s a tech-oriented story in my mind, one that has been covered by dozens of other news organizations. 

      I hope you’ll find other things of value on the site, and skip those you don’t like or don’t find of value. Thanks for the comment.

      • Done

        I guess what I fail to understand, probably because I was looking for tech news, is why it was important to update your tech audience on the breaking development that the site in question was “no longer the top result,” complete with the graphic and the definitions, plus (for bonus coverage of this important breaking development) more supporting links than I can recall seeing in most tech stories on this site. Presumably there will be future updates if the site is the top result again and all other changes thereafter, but I can hardly imagine why.

      • Jason

        It would be horrible for one of your readers to have to read something they don’t agree with.

        Fun post, John.  Shows the value of SEO for business.

  • http://www.chair10marketing.com/ Mark Kelly

    Despite the nature of the specific topic and how each of us may feel about it, this is indeed a very relevant technology-related post for Geekwire because of the very real SEO (Search Engine Optimization) implications. This is a Google search engine result that as John reports has been #1 for 9 years, and has now finally fallen lower in the rankings. It is also one of those stories that brings more knowledge to people outside the Internet marketing industry about how search engines work.

    • Guest

      What have you learned about how search engines work as a result of Dan Savage’s web site falling from #1 to #2 for a specific search term?

    • Guest

      What have you learned about how search engines work as a result of Dan Savage’s web site falling from #1 to #2 for a specific search term?

      • http://www.chair10marketing.com/ Mark Kelly

        Hi there, actually the page in question used to rank #1 for this search is now on the second page of results – so it fell quite substantially in the unpaid Google rankings. The key takeaway for me is that Google makes many changes each year to its algorithm that determines which Websites rank higher in the unpaid listings for particular search phrases. This result had stayed #1 in the unpaid rankings through hundreds of algorithm updates. But now, the listing has fallen significantly. This site used some key SEO techniques to get ranked high for this search phrase. It appears that the most recent ranking algorithm changes by Google have devalued those techniques that this site used and led to a big drop in its rank. For all the nitty gritty SEO-geek detail on this – see the Danny Sullivan post linked to above in the original post – http://searchengineland.com/santorum-no-longer-a-byproduct-of-anal-sex-according-to-google-113214 .

        • Guest

          I don’t see any detail in that article, Mark. I see a lot of blockquotes from Google’s terms of service and a lot of hand-waving in trying to assign meaning to them. Although Google have said that they took no manual action to demote Mr. Savage, neither you nor I nor Mr. Sullivan will ever know the reason why Mr. Savage’s post dropped in ranking.

          I wish all so-called “SEO” practitioners the best of luck in trying to outsmart the phenomenally intelligent researchers at Google who are trying to make their search engine conform more rigorously to Google’s corporate values. (You know, like sponsoring conservative political conferences.)

        • http://www.mealdrop.com Michael Zaro

          It’s the #1 for me when i search “santorum” 

      • http://www.chair10marketing.com/ Mark Kelly

        Hi there, actually the page in question used to rank #1 for this search is now on the second page of results – so it fell quite substantially in the unpaid Google rankings. The key takeaway for me is that Google makes many changes each year to its algorithm that determines which Websites rank higher in the unpaid listings for particular search phrases. This result had stayed #1 in the unpaid rankings through hundreds of algorithm updates. But now, the listing has fallen significantly. This site used some key SEO techniques to get ranked high for this search phrase. It appears that the most recent ranking algorithm changes by Google have devalued those techniques that this site used and led to a big drop in its rank. For all the nitty gritty SEO-geek detail on this – see the Danny Sullivan post linked to above in the original post – http://searchengineland.com/santorum-no-longer-a-byproduct-of-anal-sex-according-to-google-113214 .

  • Guest

    Bing “Google CPAC.” Learn how Google is courting Republicans. Understand. Spread.

  • Mike D.

    Hmmm, the “fun” definition still shows up first for me in Google, both logged in and logged out. I wonder if what you’re talking about here was just a temporary blip.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Donovan-Kliegg/100001187341261 Donovan Kliegg

      Your search results are personalized by your cookies or google login, so what you are seeing is a reflection of your own preferred search behavior.  All it would take is for you to have clicked that link in the past the last time you searched for santorum.  I don’t know if it would infer from other click behavior e.g. liberal clicks, GLIB clicks, any republican but santorum clicks.   

      Google’s goal is to keep you coming back so you can click on advertisements, not actually deliver a useful search of the internet.  They would argue this is better, though I would argue that “better” is an np-complete problem that is practically incomputable.  All you get is some approximation of what is better for Google.  

      • Mike D.

        As I said, it occurs whether I’m logged in or logged out, so it’s not that. I just tried it in Firefox with cookies cleared — a browser I never even use — and it occurs there too. Has nothing to do with my search behavior.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I’ll throw my two cents in that this is a valuable post and much appreciated. As Mark and Jason both note, it’s a good example of what can be done with SEO.

    As someone who lives in tech and crisis communications, I can say this is an immensely important story to understand at both a high level and deep technical level. I would argue this is the most successful “guerilla SEO” campaign to date (nine years!). You can be sure that others have watched and learned from this with an eye to replicating its success for other causes. As tech people (and communications people) we need to understand that this can happen and how it happens to prepare for it.

    In fact, I would love it if someone would do an in-depth case study on this for that very reason.

    So, thanks for the story.

    • johnhcook

      Thanks Christopher. I’d highly recommend the post I linked to above from Danny Sullivan, which provided some pretty interesting insight about this particular case and SEO practices in general.

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        Keen, I will definitely check out that more detailed posting.

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