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Old 10-11-2004   #1
dannysullivan
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Namebombing: Linking To Influence Results For A Name

In the Is targeting personal names okay? thread, we've had a discussion of the appropriateness of buying ads that appear in a search for someone's name.

I took a post out of that discussion last week by Everyman, because it raised an interesting but tangental issue. When/is it appropriate to use links to influence what shows up for someone's name?

I told Everyman that I'd spin his original post into a new thread, as was appropriate. In his case, it's a page from seobook's site that comes up first for Everyman's name. An excerpt from his original post:

Quote:
Mr. Wall's page with my name and his book in the title now come up number one in Google on a search for my name, Daniel Brandt, without any quotation marks. The total hits are 338,000.

I informed Mr. Wall last month that I had a problem with my name and his book in the title of this page, and also with the way he linked to a demo I put up that was intended to be educational (I'm nonprofit and also never run ads on my sites). He had placed my input form for the demo directly on his page, and skipped my educational setup page, and then mentioned that SEOs could use my tool (which uses a proxy) to keep from getting discovered by Google. There's a huge blurb for his book on that same page.

Mr. Wall thought it was very amusing when I objected to his page. Last July he put up the page to sell more copies of his book. After I objected in September, after noticing that a search on my name showed his page at number 3, he went into high gear to teach me a lesson. Instead of fixing the page, he added a number of additional links to strengthen the Google juice behind it, and also linked to a thread with my name in the thread title, where he and his buddies denounced me further.
OK, that's one example of linking to impact someone's name. It's somewhat like the classic miserable failure query where a search for those terms can bring up web sites about George W. Bush or Michael Moore, due to link bombing (some say Google bombing, but I prefer the term link bombing, since these bombs can go off on search engines other than Google).

The different with link bombing names (namebombing?) is that rather than making someone's site rank top for a term, instead a search for someone's name is being made to bring up information the nameholder may not like.

For more on link bombing, see this other forum thread: Change To Link Bomb Sign Of New Link Analysis Shift?

In this thread, please feel free to discuss these type of issues as they relate to someone's name. Should namebombing someone's name be allowed? Are there legal issues -- trademark law might be iffy, but how about libel law (Google itself was apparently once sued over this)? How can you prevent it, if you don't like it? What impact does it have on search relevancy?

This thread is not meant to be a dissection of the particular issue between seobook and everyman (if you want their viewpoints, see Everyman's here and seobook's here). If you find it relevant to touch on certain aspects of that particular case to explain particular points, go ahead. But it's going to be far more productive to everyone to focus on the issue overall.
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Old 10-11-2004   #2
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>>Mr. Wall thought it was very amusing when I objected to his page

I thought it was very amusing as well, If he'd just gone about it in a less confrontational manner the matter would be dead and buried.

>>name bombing

I dont beleive that was the intention, but then if your site is regarded by the engines as being more important than another site, then surely it is the engines doing that causes such a result?

I wouldnt hesitate to use someones name on my site, I do so on a regular basis. Why would I stop doing that just because I may come up in the SERPS before their own site? - laughable really.

The whole debate could have been over in hours. Why was it dragged out so long and so bitterly? - I think this quote says a lot:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brandt
Please be informed that your form to my site at http://www.seobook.com/archives/000415.shtml
has been blocked by me based on the referrer.

these are the reasons:

1. The title is objectionable to me. The title reads "The Daniel Brandt
Toolbar : SEO Book.com". Now a search for "Daniel Brandt" appears at number 3 in Google and number 6 in Yahoo. It associates me with SEO. I do not do SEO. I am a tax-exempt nonprofit and do not wish to be associated with SEO.

2. You state that "For those who want the good data without letting people know who they are. Get Google PageRank, Yahoo! Backlinks, & Alexa traffic
rating while remaining a secret squirrel." This attracts SEO types to the use of this tool. While I have a limit per hour on the tool per IP address,
I prefer not to make it attractive to SEO types because they run out their limit rapidly.

3. The tool is in a delicate state. A PageRank checksum change may soon break the PageRank portion. Yahoo appears to have some sort of IP throttling in place that returns error messages for too many requests coming in from my single IP. Alexa apparently doesn't like scraping, because they go to a little bit of trouble to hide the number on their
page by inserting bogus codes between the digits. In other words, I don't care to attract the wrong kind of attention to this tool.

4. By using the tool from your site, the user sidesteps the page of explanation I have at www.microsoft-watch.org/cgi-bin/ranking.htm
The purpose of this tool is to educate web users about search engines and web traffic. This page you sidestep serves this purpose, but your link to the tool does not.

5. While the scraping can be justified by a nonprofit pursuing an educational objective as "fair use," assuming the load on the scraped sites is negligible, it is more difficult to justify scraping from a site like yours. However, because you've hijacked my form, the user on your site is able to shift the responsibility from you to me.

6. You are using my tool to sell your book
Couldnt you just have asked seobook to either not link to you or to link to your 'education page'? - Forgive my bluntness, but there's a right way and a wrong way to go about communicating ones desires. That is the wrong way IMO
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Old 10-11-2004   #3
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Since the most effective ranking factor is targeted link text these days, the idea that namebombing should not be allowed would be like saying that targeting names in link text shouldn't be allowed. It's the same thing - get targeted link text until the page ranks highly enough. Where could anyone draw a line between normal link text targeting and bombing?

Unlike the other thread where ads were the issue, targeting a name by promoting a page that is against the target person, and possibly harmful to him/her, is acceptable. Traffic Power isn't a personal name, but it would be a good thing to promote a page to the top just to warn people about that company. I don't see any difference between targeting a company and targeting a name.
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Old 10-11-2004   #4
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That was a lot of questions, Danny - but I'll try and adress a few

First of all I think it has to do with purpose and relevancy. Let's take the purpose first, as I don't think thats been covered so well ...

There can be many reasons a name is being targeted - or even linkbombed, some of them could be:
  • Commercial interests - not related to the target name (this is what I would call blatant abuse)
  • Commercial interests - related to the target name (for example an interview with a certain person in my online newspaper)
  • Hate or terror (true or untrue)
  • Fun (for example as a birthday present or practical joke pulled on someone for friendly reasons)


To take the last first: I think there should be room for fun - I don't se any reason why not. Also I think we have to accept certain kind of "hate sites" and therefore also that they might end up in the top of result pages. Off course, those sites have to stay within the limit of the law (in whatever region it operates) but most places I know of you are allowed to be pretty critical as long as you don't claim things that are pure lies. The key for me here is relevancy! Even if I don't particular like a specific hate site it can certainly be relevant for a "name" query. And if there are enough people out there that hate this "name" as much as the site owner it's very likely it will end up with a lot o inbound links. Even better if the site uses RSS

But let's say it's a militant feministic hate site (sorry, just a bad example ) - a site dedicated to the hate to all men. I would not find it acceptable if they namebombed - or just targeted, random names such as "Chris Sherman" or "Danny Sullivan". Just because they are men dosn't make their names relevant for this website (not unless they put up a specific page about those two and why they are such good examples of terrible men )

When it comes to commercial interests I find it more tricky. Basically I think that if you have the right to use the name in your product you will have the right to use the name in your marketing - unless, that is, your suppliers have it in the conctract that you are not allowed to do so (the affiliate limitations discussed in another thread).

I think there are legal as well as ethical reasons to stay within that limit.

Ethics is a bitch but it tend to kick back when you least want it. As stated before I am not a big moralist but you should be aware that once you cross that invisible line you can't be sure how other people might react. They may go "unethical" on you too - but in other ways than you. Ways you may not like. You basically open up a whole new ball game you may not want to play.

From a legal point of view I think the most important thing to say is that you may be liable under other laws than your own country's. For example, if you market your site, and sell to, Europe then you are liable to our marketing laws. I am not a lawyer and I don't think we should go into a deep legal discussion in this thread but I just urge you to check with a good International lawyer if you are doing "border line marketing" and if you target regions outside your own.
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Old 10-11-2004   #5
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>> dubbed namebombing

Danny Sullivan coins yet another SEO phrase.
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Old 10-11-2004   #6
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one additional linkbomb possiblity not mentioned above is that a person finds something interesting and links to it and many third parties link at the middle site using the name of the first site owner in the link text.

without me actively promoting that initial daniel brandt toolbar page in any way it ranked at #3 on its own merit...from googlebombing / namebombing by random bloggers not named Aaron.
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Old 10-11-2004   #7
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Sorry guy, but i just fail to find this anything more than an interesting diversion.

It's the engines that decide how pages rank regardless of websites intentions. If people dont rank for their own names, what should we do? All sue Google? - hardly....

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Old 10-11-2004   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick W
Sorry guy, but i just fail to find this anything more than an interesting diversion.

It's the engines that decide how pages rank regardless of websites intentions. If people dont rank for their own names, what should we do? All sue Google? - hardly....

Nick
It appears as though this very forum is NameBombing you Nick
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Old 10-11-2004   #9
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>instead a search for someone's name is being made to bring up information the nameholder may not like.

And long may that continue.

As long as the information isn't libel, which I think mostly means false and malicious, then people have a right to speaK. Some may write letters to newspapers, some may print flyers, some may make a web page and use whatever knowledge they have to bring it to a wider audiance.

>If you find it relevant to touch on certain aspects of that particular case to explain particular points, go ahead.

I find it highly amusing that the claimed "wounded party" is this case makes a living from "a search for someone's name is being made to bring up information the nameholder may not like".
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Old 10-11-2004   #10
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Exclamation

I asked these questions the other day to a law firm. Here is what they said and I agree.

1. if S targets the name of X without consulting with X, and
2. if S targets the name of X for monetary gain (promote his/her products or service)

Then

(a) S is not any different than a vulgar spammer.
(b) S must be classified as a name-spammer.

Don't waste your time arguying with S. Proceed as follows

1. Ask S to stop the above via a notarized Cease and Desist (with copy to S's ISP).
2. If S ignores the CD then try this

(a) file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for spamming, misleading consumers, unfair trade practices, and tortious interference. This costs nothing.
(b) Contact a law firm to handle to S a civil lawsuit. This may cost you.

Other than this, I don't see other way to stop S from targeting X.

If someone is interested, he/she can ask the FTC to look into the recent phenomenon of name-spamming (name-bombing).

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Old 10-11-2004   #11
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>1. if S targets the name of X without consulting with X, and

Replace "targets" with "writes about". Are you saying you need someones permission to write about them?

>2. if S targets the name of X for monetary gain (promote his/her products or service)

Replace "targets" with "writes about". That puts just about every newspaper and magazine out of business. No more TV or radio too I guess.
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Old 10-11-2004   #12
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Quote:
one additional linkbomb possiblity not mentioned above is that a person finds something interesting and links to it and many third parties link at the middle site using the name of the first site owner in the link text. without me actively promoting that initial daniel brandt toolbar page in any way it ranked at #3 on its own merit...from googlebombing / namebombing by random bloggers not named Aaron.
True, this is a possibility, particularly if the first blogger brands his post with a namebomb in the title and links. In this particular case, I find only three links from other sites that have my name mentioned, using a backlink check on Yahoo. In one case my name is not in anchor text, and the other two cases may have been picked up automatically since they appear to be something like directory listings.

Blogging is viral, as you well know. Numerous directory-type sites scan RSS feeds, and I assume this is what happened. You're the expert here. I've seen mirror copies of some of your pages on other sites on the web. One example is a site that claims to make a page child-safe if you submit a URL. In this case, Yahoo picked up your content from that child-safe site and counted that new URL as a backlink to your content.

My guess is that you aren't worried about children, but you are an expert at viral linking. I see Google as primarily at fault for the sorry situation they've created that has blogs ranking so well.


Quote:
I find it highly amusing that the claimed "wounded party" is this case makes a living from "a search for someone's name is being made to bring up information the nameholder may not like".
I cite investigative books and newspaper clippings where the name appears. Twice in twenty years I've been notified that particular pages in a book cited by me were retracted by the publisher after legal action, and I took out that particular citation. The role of investigative journalism cannot be equated with selling ebooks for private profit. No serious person would advocate that journalists be forbidden from ever naming names, and no serious person would recommend that written history be destroyed to protect those who have been named by journalists in the past.

Journalism performs a necessary social function. Search engine marketing does not.
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Old 10-11-2004   #13
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Journalism performs a necessary social function. Search engine marketing does not.
It rather depend on your defintion of jounalism, quite frankly i find it hard to categorize you as a jounalist. I've always considered you an SEO

>i count 3

I count 4

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Old 10-11-2004   #14
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>Journalism performs a necessary social function. Search engine marketing does not.

I agree to an extent, but I have a rather narrow definition of search engine marketing.

I think that SEO on the other hand is the "new journalism", it can enable and enpower many writers who may not have had the oppertuinity to be "published".

Where I come from the best that most could hope for was a life down the pits [deep coal mines]...then they closed all the pits. It wasn't a future of university, english degrees and journalism.

What SEO offers people like me is the ability to publish and_also_be_read. If that means some people get upset, if that means that some things I write will "rank" higher than the thing I am writing about then I think that is a very, very, very good thing.
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Old 10-11-2004   #15
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Exclamation

Quote:
Originally Posted by NFFC
>1. if S targets the name of X without consulting with X, and

Replace "targets" with "writes about". Are you saying you need someones permission to write about them?

>2. if S targets the name of X for monetary gain (promote his/her products or service)

Replace "targets" with "writes about". That puts just about every newspaper and magazine out of business. No more TV or radio too I guess.
I believe this is something to be interpreted in the court of law. I just contacted the FTC regarding this recent phenomenon of name-spamming (name-bombing) and asked to look into the matter.

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Old 10-11-2004   #16
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Originally Posted by Nick W
It rather depend on your defintion of jounalism, quite frankly i find it hard to categorize you as a jounalist. I've always considered you an SEO
>i count 3
I count 4
Nick
Yes, four -- now that you've linked to seobook on your site with my name in the anchor text. Very cute.

That's the whole point, isn't it? I can be a social activist since 1967, and build an index of investigative journalism for the last 23 years, and then someone does a search in Google and discovers, thanks to you and Aaron, that all I really am is just another search engine marketer!

Now do you understand why I'm concerned about Google and interested in search engines generally? I'm not marketer like you. Rather, I'm extending my activism to new issues that have serious social consequences.
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Old 10-11-2004   #17
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>>Very cute.

Glad you thought so, i can respect a man that can look at the funny side of things he finds serious in nature. Pop in anytime

Quote:
Now do you understand why I'm concerned about Google and interested in search engines generally?
Whilst not as concerned as you clearly are, i actually share more than a few of your concerns. Not this particular one however.

Going back to Orions post, nah... dont be silly mate!
As NFFC pointed out, that just makes a mockery of free speech, journalism and western culture in general.

er.. ok, he didnt say that, but you know what i mean...

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Old 10-11-2004   #18
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Quote:
I just contacted the FTC regarding this recent phenomenon of name-spamming (name-bombing) and asked to look into the matter
Really? - Orion, serious question: How would you argue that it's the individual at fault rather than the search engine that controls the way it ranks pages?

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Old 10-11-2004   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Everyman
I can be a social activist since 1967, and build an index of investigative journalism for the last 23 years, and then someone does a search in Google and discovers, thanks to you and Aaron, that all I really am is just another search engine marketer!

Now do you understand why I'm concerned about Google and interested in search engines generally? I'm not marketer like you. Rather, I'm extending my activism to new issues that have serious social consequences.
1.) if you did not use phrases such as "just another search engine marketer" perhaps more search engine marketers would see things from your worldview. when you discount others they stand a good chance to discount you.
2.) many marketers use marketing for social causes they believe in.
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Last edited by seobook : 10-11-2004 at 04:09 PM.
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Old 10-11-2004   #20
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>> dubbed namebombing

Danny Sullivan coins yet another SEO phrase.
Yes - it's called Dannybombing.
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