Warning: This blog post tangentially references – although doesn’t directly link to or explicitly discuss – something some may find offensive. If you have delicate sensibilities coupled with an insatiable curiosity, please abandon this post and go back to Facebook.

Back in 2003, then-Senator Rick Santorum made some comments regarding homosexuality to which some people took offense. Dan Savage – an openly gay sex columnist and humorist – took issue with these statements and decided to hold a contest where users could submit ideas to (re)define the term “santorum” with the purpose of associating the Senator’s name with something unsettling. A winner was chosen and a Google Bomb was used to forever associate the term and the surname.

(Again, if you have delicate sensibilities, do not search for “santorum” or “Rick Santorum.” You have been warned.)

With the former Senator considering a 2012 Presidential run, some have wondered if this association could potentially harm his chances. Searching for his last name alone returns several results about the sexual neologism, while searching for his first and last name returns a much cleaner – although not perfect – result.

The fact of the matter is, Rick Santorum will likely never escape this reference. First of all, the current top two results are Wikipedia pages – the first being for the individual (which has a sub-entry for the very issue being discussed) and the second being about the term. So what does an SEO team do? Try to push down both Wikipedia pages?

But add to the permanence of the Internet the fact that there are people who are actively working against him, and the task of removing this blemish from the search results becomes pretty much impossible. (Not to mention the whole Streisand effect of it all.) I don’t know if there is an SEO team skilled enough – short of maybe a Google insider who can ban certain sites – to get Rick Santorum a clean SERP.

So what lesson is there to be learned from all of this, especially for those who may one day find themselves in the same situation as Rick Santorum? I’m not sure, other than to remember that powerful people are powerful, the Internet is permanent, and one comment can have lasting results. Dan Savage has a huge following and as this whole issue resurfaces, other prominent people have been discussing it (including one Stephen Colbert) so it’s likely not going anywhere.

As for those of us who study SEO for a living or who have websites we want to promote, maybe the best strategy is to just let a famous person know about it – and hopefully they’ll have nice things to say.

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