Googlebombing Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may be the most livable city in the United States, but the region is still painfully insecure. Or maybe not - maybe there's just a local marketing firm that is desperate for work.

A local firm called Eyeflow wants to use the power of PageRank to move "Pittsburgh" into the number one position in Google search results for the phrase "The Best City in the World."

Can words describe this adeuqately? "Foolish" comes close. Complete and utter waste of time? Ignorant? Desperate?

What's worse, the Post-Gazette fell for it and put the thing on today's front page.

Googlebombing has been tried before.

The folks at Google don't like it. They have figured out ways to stop it. Anyone who knows anything about search -- which is to say, any marketing firm that you might care to hire, in my view -- knows that it's a waste of time.


23 Responses to "Googlebombing Pittsburgh"

Anonymous said... 6/10/2009 1:33 PM

Hello Mike, Google says; "Google Bombing refers to a prank where people attempt to cause someone else's site to rank for an obscure or meaningless query." I believe what they are attempting to do is get people who truly believe that Pittsburgh is a great city to express there thoughts online. If the people who put up the links actual believe it then the final result is not obscure or mearningless. On the other hand if they where trying to get the site to rank for "City Made of Bacon" then that might be a googlebomb.

Jim said... 6/10/2009 1:38 PM

So your saying every site that tries and build links to their site is Google Bombing? In that case every company in the world that has an online marketing team is Google Bombing lol.

Christina Keffer said... 6/10/2009 1:39 PM

Hi Mike,
Interesting post, but for a few misconceptions. Eyeflow is not attempting to Googlebomb anything.

According to the Google Article you linked to yourself, a Googlebomb is the following:

"Technically, a "Googlebomb" (sometimes called a "linkbomb" since they're not specific to Google) refers to a prank where people attempt to cause someone else's site to rank for an obscure or meaningless query. "

Clearly, this is not what Eyeflow seems to be aiming for. The key phrase "best city in the world" is not a meaningless phrase at all.

I think you may be misconstruing a genuine bid to help Pittsburgh with something more sinister.

If people who already live here and love the city want to help it gain the notoriety it deserves, this might help them focus their aim.

I'm not sure why it struck such a nerve with you, but you're coming off pretty harsh

Unknown said... 6/10/2009 2:02 PM

I think you may be misusing the term Googlebombing.

The Google Webmaster Blog describes this a little differently then you are implying the company Eyeflow is intending.

It states, "Technically, a "Googlebomb" (sometimes called a "linkbomb" since they're not specific to Google) refers to a prank where people attempt to cause someone else's site to rank for an obscure or meaningless query."

how would it be obscure or meaningless to rank Pittsburgh for the best city in the world. I live here, I love it. I've lived in other cities and this is by far the best to me. I'm sure others feel the same way.

Also, if you want to know the meaning of something don't trust something that is user generated like Wikipedia, go straight to the source.

I hope you start liking Pittsburgh enough to consider it the best city in the world someday. Until then you might just have to let go of the hate you have :)

Mike Madison said... 6/10/2009 2:27 PM

Googlebombing is strategic, coordinated manipulation of search results, and it's something that Google can and does resist. It will here.

Besides the fact that the campaign is destined to fail, and fail quickly, it's a foolish and pathetic reflection of the city's and region's insecurity. Sure, that sounds harsh, and it's meant to. Pittsburgh is a neat place, but it's far from the Best City in the World (is there really such a thing?), and no one possessing even a smidgeon of objectivity could possibly think that it is. Before I saw the PG report this morning, I had received multiple email press releases from Eyeflow. If I sound cranky, it's because I find the whole enterprise particularly cynical and tiresome. Just say no to manipulative PR!

If you really want to invest in making Pittsburgh better, and making people elsewhere know what a great place Pittsburgh is, then there are a thousand great ways to do that - aside from mucking around with a search engine (excuse me -- trying and failing to muck around with a search engine) in exchange for some cheap publicity.

First on the list of things to do is this: Step away from the keyboard, put down the Primanti's sandwich, and get active in an entrepreneurial activity. For-profit entreneurship or social/volunteer entrepreneurship - I'd welcome more of both. When I'm not blogging, I'm working with folks at our law school to build an entrepreneurship program to support the city's legal community and those that it serves.

I know that there are tons of people out there in Pittsburgh who are doing comparable things and more. Rather than trying to Googlebomb Pittsburgh to the top of Google's search results, make some noise with your own organization / neighborhood / business / etc.

Jason Togyer said... 6/10/2009 2:49 PM


The region is "painfully insecure" for good reason --- the rest of the world still thinks the skies here are orange with rust particles, and that we all wear hard-hats with little miner's lights on them.

(See the depiction of Pennsylvania on "30 Rock," or my own "Hardscrabble Mon-Valley Watch.")

This effort doesn't seem all that dumb, as other commenters pointed out; no, it's not "entrepreneurship," it's just a high-impact, low-cost, fun activity.

Finally, with respect, comments like "put down the Primanti's sandwich" and "a foolish and pathetic reflection" seem a little condescending.

To quote Dick Skrinjar: You seem cranky. Are you getting enough fiber in your diet? ;-)

Mike Madison said... 6/10/2009 3:04 PM


Plenty of fiber, and I've had (and am having) a brilliant week, thanks very much. But much as Google deserves criticism, I get pretty testy about attempts to screw with the Internet. This *is* Googlebombing, and sure, at one level it's just good fun, but at a different level (the level that I'm at, with a batch of press releases in my In box and a dozen years of professional investment in studying the policy dimensions of Internet information) it's cynical and manipulative and wasteful. Where does this end? How about a competition? Let's get all the cities in the world to try to get *their* names into Google's top search result. Again, much as we should all be skeptical of Google, that sort of thing would make it unusable. If Pittsburgh wants to be at the top of the page, then the ACCD or local marketeers should buy an ad.

My crankiness on this particular issue is reinforced by what I strongly suspect is astroturfing (my metaphor; I'm not sure of the "correct" term) in the comments above. A succession of comments that make essentially the same point over and over -- from people who aren't Pittsblog regulars -- is evidence, in my book, of the same PR campaign at work. The condescension you hear in the Primanti's remark is directed at that, or them, not at Pittsburgh in general.

How about this? Instead of a PageRank competition, how about everyone in Pittsburgh with something good to say about the city (something meaningful and specific, not blathering about what a great team the Pens are or how pretty it is here -- those are both true, but not helpful or new) puts up a blog, a Facebook group, a Twitter account, and a set of tags to link them all together. If you actually create the weather -- which is what you've been doing in McKeesport, spectacularly -- then Google will find you.


Schultz said... 6/10/2009 3:10 PM

Bravo Mike Madison. You hit the nail on the head. In order to be a true great city there needs to be more action and less talk. More doing and less marketing. Do the truly great cities of world have to embark on promoting themselves anywhere close to level we see out of Pittsburgh?

Unknown said... 6/10/2009 3:12 PM

did you ever think that many people say the same thing because they all know you are wrong?

Mike Madison said... 6/10/2009 4:51 PM

No. I'm certainly prepared to admit that I'm wrong when the time comes, but I'll stick to my guns on this one.

It's possible, of course, that Pittsburgh is Bloom County, and I opened the door to its anxiety closet. And just one big anxiety came tumbling out.

emfink said... 6/10/2009 6:15 PM

Though I've never lived in Pittsburgh, it is among my favorite U.S. cities, and a place I'd be proud to call home if I ever have the chance. I'd certainly call it a "great" city.

But I'm inclined to agree with Mike. This seems like a silly and pointless PR stunt, the most likely result of which will be to provoke ridicule from the sorts of cosmoprovincial snoots who dismiss the very possibility of intelligent life in a place like Pittsburgh. Not that I care about their opinions or think the people of Pittsburgh ought to. I just don't see the payoff. Are people who previously scoffed at Pittsburgh, or never gave it a moment's thought, suddenly going to flock there because it comes first in a Google search for "Greatest City in the World"? To anyone who thinks this campaign will really enhance the city's image, I'd say "yunz heads need examined".

Anyway, if people really want to engage in this sort of tomfoolery, I'd suggest tying Pittsburgh's page rank to a much worthier catch-phrase: Stanley Cup Champions -- coming this Friday!!!

Vannevar said... 6/10/2009 10:48 PM

I'd like to echo Mr. Schultz and say, Bravo Zulu Pittsblog!

This is an immature, silly thing for Eyeflow to do. What's their motivation to present themselves as a grayhat (at best) spam outfit?

I have a theory.

Cheers, Vannevar

kate said... 6/10/2009 11:11 PM

Interesting discussion. I love this city, not born here, but have moved here three times. But I was inclined to agree with Mike that objectively speaking, it's probably not the absolute greatest city. So, out of curiosity I just googled "the best city in the world." #1 I got which includes a ranking report from a consulting firm that looks fairly methodical (Pittsburgh doesn't appear on the top 50 list), and lo and behold, what is #2 in the results but I just had to laugh. Either Eyeflow has already been hard at work, or they really like to set themselves up to succeed easily. And then I have to wonder why we're having this discussion? Surely Google will find out and strip us out of the top.

Schultz said... 6/10/2009 11:14 PM

I enjoyed my 12+ years living in Pittsburgh and still have many friends there but geez, all this overhyping of Pittsburgh reminds me of the kinds of things you hear when there is a bubble, like the dot come stock bubble of the late 90's, or the more recent housing bubble.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/11/2009 12:04 PM

Just for fun I googled the term "Worst city in the world".

The first link listed 60 cities including Philadelphia, Buffalo and Cleveland but no Pittsburgh. The second link however -- Popular Science -- listed Pittsburgh in its Top 10, having looked mostly at pollution. Thereafter followed a predictable torrent of comments arguing in favor of the appearance of cleanliness over science.

Now as to the debate -- whether one calls it Search Engine Optimization or Googlebombing and whether or not there's a distinction between them, though I'm sure there's a market for it, it just doesn't seem like a very Pittsburgh thing to do. Culturally this is a town of doers and workers, not braggers or manipulators. I'm sure in 99% of America this effort would be welcomed with wide open arms but around here -- especially applied TO HERE -- it just comes off as tacky.

Jason Togyer said... 6/11/2009 3:43 PM

I've changed my mind. I've decided this is a dumb idea.

Everybody already knows what the best city in the world is.

(running and ducking)

Anonymous said... 6/11/2009 5:58 PM

quintessentially pittsburgh.


it's what makes the steelers winners - psyops in the form of intimidation.

it's the glory of the boast "most livable city."

it's marketing garbage.

it's information pollution.

it's digital whoring.

it's trickery.

winning in pittsburgh is all about perception. why else would we gladly tax the flock out of ourselves to support the hobbies of billionaires by building stadiums?

maybe when people see the burgh all over the goog, folk'll realize the extent of disinformation on the www.

this could be a good thing for thoughtful media outlets.

it should be a good thing for this local marketing firm, fighting for the burgh's honor on the internet.

the idea that pittsburgh is the most livable city is a joke to anyone who has lived outside of an atmospheric inversion.

best? c'mon, haven't we all always known we win those efforts to quantify the ineffable b/c we've got so many bridges and hospitals and we drew a border around wilkinsburg?

i love this city, but c'mon.

Anonymous said... 6/11/2009 6:06 PM

mike said:
"aside from mucking around with a search engine (excuse me -- trying and failing to muck around with a search engine) in exchange for some cheap publicity."

your comment here could easily fit-in this thread:

Anonymous said... 6/12/2009 11:32 AM

All hail Mt. Lebanon, The Best Suburb in the World!

Anonymous said... 6/12/2009 1:28 PM

SEO is a part of business. Rather or not it is worthwhile do something as noted here is its own debate, but the advantages to smart SEO are not.

Anonymous said... 6/17/2009 9:34 PM

Dude it seems like this is more of a joke than anything else. I think you may be looking way too into this.

I know some of the guys at Eyeflow and I'm guessing they were just trying to show some love for Pittsburgh.

On a side note, Max Talbot was quoted as saying Pittsburgh is "the best city in the world". You should start breaking his balls.


"This is the best day of my life and I have the chance to share it with my family, you guys, my teammates. I just want to say thank you," said Stanley Cup Finals game seven hero, Max Talbot. "You guys are the best city in the world."


Mike Madison said... 6/17/2009 11:14 PM

This isn't a Coen Brothers movie; I'm not a or the dude.

Eyeflow can have all the fun they want -- but they should follow Maxime's model and keep their press releases to themselves. Otherwise, someone, or something, is liable to get hurt.

C. Briem said... 6/17/2009 11:48 PM

What's 'dude' in Dutch?

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About Pittsblog

Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

Chris Briem of Null Space drops by Pittsblog from time to time.

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