News for Google`s Birthday

If you did any searching online at all yesterday, you probably noticed Google’s sweet doodle. It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years since the search engine came on the scene. Some of the Google-related news items this week make one reflect on how much it’s grown.

The age of 13, in Judaism, is when a boy becomes a man. It doesn’t mean that a 13-year-old boy can suddenly drink or vote or sign contracts, of course; but in the context of the religion, it’s the age at which a child becomes responsible for their own sins and mistakes, and making amends for them. The parents no longer bear that weight.

It’s with this thought on my mind that I turn to Elizabeth Osmeloski’s () article on Matt Cutts, Rick Santorum, and the Colbert Report – three items I wouldn’t have expected to see together. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably familiar with Senator Santorum’s search suffering already. In 2003, his anti-gay views so offended columnist Dan Savage that the latter held a contest to associate the senator’s last name with some kind of sex act. Once he found a winner, Savage launched a website,, to both publicize the new definition and inform readers of the senator’s anti-gay views. Naturally, the site made it to the top of Google for “santorum,” helped along by links and lots of other natural, white hat SEO techniques.

Senator Santorum launched a presidential bid a few months ago, and has become increasingly vocal about the fact that this other site ranks higher for “santorum” than his own campaign website. A quick search puts that site in the middle of the page, with Savage’s site and definition for “santorum” holding steady at the top. Recently, the senator complained to Google that the search engine could remove that indecent site from its index if it wanted to – and that it would have, if Santorum were a Democrat and not a Republican. The complaint made its way to the Colbert Report comedy news show, where host Stephen Colbert noted that Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam division, stated that “Our web search results are protected speech in the First Amendment sense.”

Colbert made fun of this, noting that our Founding Fathers must have intended to protect web documents as free speech, giving us, in his words, “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of hacked Scarlett Johansson nude pics.” To be fair, there have been times when Google has rightly agonized over changing the results; the fact that this must have been an easy decision in this case doesn’t make it wrong. If Senator Santorum truly wishes to get his website above Savage’s, he has two options – and that’s one more than most people. He can work the SEO for his website. Or, he can, as Danny Sullivan suggests in an article discussing the problem at length, change his mind about homosexuality and reach out in a positive way to the LGBT community. That’s probably not going to happen, but if  he made the change with sincerity, he might get the backing of exactly the people who are fueling the Google pain.

In short, Senator Santorum’s standing as compared to Savage’s site about Santorum may in part be Google’s responsibility thanks to its algorithms, but since Savage is not breaking the search engine’s terms of service (his site really is relevant for those who want to find information on Santorum and his views), it is NOT Google’s responsibility to “fix” it. Everyone is supposed to be playing by the same rules.

Also in line with handling greater responsibility, Google loosened certain restrictions on gambling ads. Basically, AdSense publishers can choose to display certain types of gambling ads in some geographic locations. Google offers webmasters a FAQ that outlines the changes and links to specific countries.  “Generally speaking, Google’s gambling-related restrictions cover practices that are not legal in the jurisdictions that ads are targeted to,” Pamela Parker explained, covering the story for Search Engine Land. “Additionally, gambling ads won’t be allowed on sites whose audiences are primarily under the age of 18, regardless of country.”

And finally, news publishers who want some more control over how their content appears in Google gained a new weapon this week. It’s called the link rel standout tag, and it’s intended to let these organizations mark their best work. Users can mark up to seven items per week. As Vanessa Fox explains, “Google News will use this information as a signal for labeling news stories as ‘featured’ on the Google News home page and in News search results.”

To use, simply place the tag in the <head> section of your story’s source code. The actual syntax is <link rel=”standout” href=”URL”>. Make sure you replace URL with the item’s canonical URL. Also, in an apparent effort to encourage responsible reporting, you can point to items on other domains in that URL space, as the source material for your article. You can use the standout tag in this way much more often. As Fox sums up, “In other words, you can point to your own domain up to seven times a week (any more than that and Google News will start to ignore this tag) but can point to other domains as many times as you’d like.”  

[gp-comments width="770" linklove="off" ]