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The Art of G(rassroots)SEO

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, October 12 2010

In the old days, we called it Google Bombing, but Daily Kos' Chris Bowers, who pioneered the practice, has re-branded the art of ideological repetative hyperlinking as the somewhat geekier and less aggressive "Grassroots Search Engine Optimization":

The goal of Grassroots SEO is to get as many undecided voters as possible to read the most damaging news article about the Republican candidate for Congress in their district. It is based on two simple premises:

  1. One of the most common political activities people take online is to use search engines, mainly Google, to find information on candidates...
  2. These results of these searches are always in flux based upon hyperlinks anyone posts anywhere on the Internet, including message board comments and social networking sites (but not email).

As a result of this, 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.

So, in short, a partisan Democratic blogger would choose to link the phrase "Christine O'Donnell," for example, to something other than her official campaign website -- like the now-famous Bill Maher clip where O'Donnell talked about her early interest in witchcraft. Search engines see that linkage and assume that the crowd has made a determination of what the most relevent sites related to O'Donnell are, and, at least in theory, those negative results get bumped up to the top of search results.

Googlers who track real-time search report that voters are indeed searching for information on political candidates in the very minutes and seconds before they cast a vote, including on their mobile phones. You can see where, a la Bowers, a negative "GSEO" mention on the top of the page might put a bad taste in a voter's mouth in that critical window.