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Is Boris’s wine box painting hobby an SEO strategy?

Wine box

Is Boris’s wine box painting hobby an SEO strategy?

Back in June, the then prime minister in waiting Boris Johnson explained to Talk Radio about his unusual hobby of painting wine boxes to create model buses. It seemed a typically quirky admission from a politician who has always been a little out of sync with the rest of Westminster, but a theory has emerged that his comments could be an attempt to influence Google search results relating to him.

Some observers have suggested that Johnson is trying to ‘game’ the news by dropping in words connected to negative stories about him in the hope of creating irrelevant, oddball stories that edge out less desirable ones. This theory was suggested by such sources as the Scotsman at the time the wine box bus story was making the news, but has reared its head again this week after Johnson described himself as a “model of restraint” during the BBC’s ‘Andrew Marr Show’ on Sunday.

What is the theory?

When asked by Talk Radio what he did to relax, Johnson’s exact words were:

“I like to paint. Or I make things. I have a thing where I make models of buses. What I make is, I get old, I don’t know, wooden crates, and I paint them. It’s a box that’s been used to contain two wine bottles, right, and it will have a dividing thing. And I turn it into a bus.”

There are three words in this answer that all relate to an existing controversy to do with the prime minister – ‘buses’, ‘wine’ and ‘model’.

A Google search for ‘Boris Johnson buses’ now brings up several stories to do with this hobby, but using Google Image Search, we can see multiple images of him giving a speech in front of the now infamous bus proclaiming that the UK should fund the NHS instead of sending £350m per week to the EU. Did he deliberately create another, much more innocuous story about himself and buses simply to quiet the fuss over the Brexit bus?

Similarly, only a few days before he spoke to Talk Radio, Johnson was at the centre of a police incident relating to an alleged disturbance at his house. Reportedly, a recording of the row included comments about red wine being spilled on a sofa, so was this also an effort to bury negative news in a ‘Boris Johnson wine’ search?

Johnson is also the subject of ongoing speculation over his relationship with former model Jennifer Arcuri, and whether she was granted favours during his time as Mayor of London. Is this why he’s dropping in the word ‘model’ in some of his public appearances? If so, a Google search for ‘Boris Johnson model’ suggests it has had little effect.

Reputation management?

The idea of Johnson trying to ‘play’ Google and the British media in this way might seem far-fetched, but the practice of online reputation management (ORM), often carried out as one arm of a search engine optimisation campaign, is well-known. Usually, it relies on creating and encouraging the publishing of neutral or positive stories about a person or organisation to cancel out negative ones, but few have the power to so easily focus such authoritative news sites on these stories. Only Johnson and his advisors know for sure whether this is an elaborate online reputation management strategy or just an insight into his offbeat personality.

John Murray
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