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British bakery Greggs gets Google bombed

What does Britain’s largest bakery chain have in common with Rick Santorum, Chuck Norris and French military victories?

They’ve all been Google bombed.

“Google bombing” involves people linking a Web site to key phrase to artificially elevate that site in search results. George W. Bush was Google bombed in 2003 after political activist George Johnston urged his followers to post links on other Web sites connecting the phrase “miserable failure” with the president’s biography on the White House Web site. It worked. Bush’s bio became the top result in a Google search for “miserable failure” even though that phrase doesn’t appear in the text.

COCKERMOUTH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 16: Greggs, the bakers, the first flooded damaged shop to open on Cockermouth High Street helps feed the army of construction workers on December 16, 2009 in Cockermouth, England. An army of contractors and utility workers continue to work in Cumbria to rebuild the infrastructure after the unprecedented floods. In addition to recent aid the government today announced an extra 500,000 GBP to help farmers reinstate fields littered with flood debris. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images) Greggs in Cockermouth, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Greggs, famous for its sausage rolls and “pasties” — a savory pastry in Britain, not a stripper’s nipple cover — was the victim of a similar prank on Tuesday.

If you googled the low-cost chain on the search engine’s United Kingdom site, a doctored version of the company’s logo appeared in the blurb that appears at the top of search results called a knowledge graph. Instead of saying “Always fresh. Always tasty,” it said “Providing sh– to scum for over 70 years.”

How did this happen? Business Insider explained: “Google had been fooled by satirical encyclopedia ‘Uncyclopedia,’ which creates parody Wikipedia pages for well-known brands and celebrities. As Google crawls the web for up-to-date information, its algorithm can sometimes accidentally show false results in listings.”

Search results are influenced by PageRank, a tool Google uses to determine which Web sites are important. Elena Cresci of the Guardian explained the doctored logo on Uncyclopedia was hosted by Wikia, a free web-hosting service that PageRank probably considers important since it hosts a lot of other legitimate, non-satirical content.

Mobius Media advises businesses that get Google bombed to report the error, and says the problem can be avoided by making it easy for Google to find the right information about a business by creating a Google Plus profile link.

After Bush’s “miserable failure” bomb, Google issued a statement: “We don’t condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we’re also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up.” It eventually changed its algorithm to cut down on Google bombing.

Google responded more quickly to fix the insult to Greggs, which appeared to be the result of an algorithmic accident rather than a concerted mass effort, after amused tweeters alerted the company to the problem.

Plenty of people got a laugh at Greggs’s expense but, writing for the Telegraph, Josh Warwick defended it as the “last bastion of unpretentious food.” It is “wonderfully reassuring,” he said, to buy food  “without first having to check on the correct pronunciation for fear of social humiliation.”

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.



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