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PageRank and Google-bombing: Change in PageRank to Combat Manipulation

Google’s success in becoming a dominating force in search engines is credited to its revolutionary PageRank algorithm that was created by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of the company. The PageRank algorithm determines the importance, or the “weight,” of the page by looking at how often they are cited or linked to by other pages. Moreover, the higher the weight of the pages that are linked to it, the higher the page is ranked. Thus, websites that appear at the top of the search results are ranked highly by PageRank as they are cited frequently by similarly high ranking websites. However, this system also has flaws that allow it to be manipulated by the user through a process called “Google bombing.”

The term refers to the manipulation of search results by linking a certain term to a certain site resulting in an off-topic website appearing in the top search results. In 2018, searching the term “idiot” resulted in numerous pictures of President Donald Trump, leading to a House Judiciary Committee hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai. This is one of many Google-bombing incidents that have occurred since the beginning of the search engine. Despite many changes made by Google to prevent this from occurring, including hiding PageRank from the user and dropping the PageRank algorithm over a decade ago, Google-bombing continues to grip headlines every year. The detail process of this is discussed in a paper titled “Google-bombing: Manipulating the PageRank Algorithm,” by Peter Hamilton, which points out how Google-bombing occurs and how Google has been combating these issues. PageRank was manipulated by creating a large interconnected group of pages that are linked to each other to artificially increase the weight of each page. In the case of the President Trump incident, forum users intentionally started mass upvoting a post that contained a picture of Trump’s with the word “idiot” in an attempt to manipulate Google’s algorithm into thinking that the page is popular. As a result, the algorithm began to treat the page as being relevant to those searching the term “idiot.” As the incident was widely reported in news sites and social media, many of which are highly reputable and use the same image that appears in the original post, these highly weighted posts further strengthen the connection, allowing it to appear on the very top of the search result.

To tackle this issue, Google has given reputable linkers a default high rank to ensure that untrusted pages will have difficulty appearing at the top of the search results. Moreover, Google also analyses the contents of the page by comparing it to those it is being linked to determine similarity and whether the contents are related or relevant. Ultimately, in the cases of many successful Google-bombing, human staff are the ones responsible for the removal of the contents to restore the PageRank to its initial stage. 



Hamilton, P. A. (1970, January 1). [PDF] Google-bombing – Manipulating the PageRank Algorithm – Semantic Scholar. Retrieved from

Meyer, D. (2018, July 19). Reddit Users Are Manipulating Google Images to Associate ‘Idiot’ with Donald Trump. Retrieved from


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October 2019