The Mahalo Paid Link Evidence Trail

Posted on March 13th, 2010 at 5:53 pm by Michael VanDeMar under blogthropology, Cuttisms, Google, lackofmeds, marketing, scams, SEO

Matt Cutts asked me in a Sphinn comment the following question relating the my post on paid links on Mahalo.com:

 

mvandemar, the site you mention is whatsyourconundrum.com, but that site is hosted on ns1.mahalo.com (the same nameserver as Mahalo). That makes it a cross-link, but what's the evidence that it's a paid link?

 

Let’s ignore, for the moment anyways, that for absolutely any other website on the internet with the evidence that I presented the process would most likely entail the webmaster proving their innocence rather than the person reporting the paid link proving that they are guilty, and that they would have to do so after they actually got banned. Before I get started, keep in mind… whatsyourconundrum.com is not Conundrum Wine’s main website. Their actual website is http://conundrumwine.com/. The site that is being linked to from Mahalo is a marketing device, a link or PageRank funnel, something that acts as an intermediary link bait, or simply to increase brand recognition. This is actually a great way to help increase your exposure without having to put gimmicky items on your company’s professional website. That main website is not hosted on Mahalo.com’s servers.

Now, Matt is correct. The whatsyourconundrum.com website is indeed hosted on Mahalo servers. Without even looking at the IP address, we know by looking at the whois record the dns servers are ns1.mahalo.com and ns2.mahalo.com:

 

whatsyourconundrum.com whois

 

The reason, I am guessing, is that apparently whatsyourconundrum.com is powered by a white label version of Mahalo’s Answers. What we also see in the whois record is that the domain is owned by Camus Vinyards, and that their administrative email is domainadmin@caymus.com. Following that hint, we see that the caymus.com domain is owned by Caymus Vinyards:

 

caymus.com whois

 

Caymus.com is in turn being hosted on ewinerysolutions.com servers. Ewinerysolutions.com is being hosted on their own servers, so the dns trail stops there. If we go to the eWinery Solutions website, we can see that what they do is offer marketing services to wineries:

The most profitable and fastest-growing segment of the wine industry today is the consumer-direct channel. eWinery Solutions offers you the freedom to market your wines easily and effectively by creating a one-on-one dialogue with your best customers.

Jot on over to their Portfolio page, and we see that Conundrum Wine is in fact a client of eWinery Solutions:

 

Conundrum is an eWinery client

 

Now, does eWinery offer their services to Conundrum out of the goodness of their heart? Somehow I doubt it. Did Jason agree to lease and host the white-label version of Mahalo Answers to them because of all of the warm fuzzies he knew it would give him? Of course not. In fact, he even refers to this deal as being Mahalo’s first “client”:

 

Mahalos first client?

 

Whether the header link was part of the original deal negotiated to set up whatsyourconundrum.com, or a separate cash transaction, the fact remains that this was not a merit based link. It has it’s roots in a commercial transaction that most likely occurred between someone at Mahalo and the people doing Conundrum’s marketing. What I also can’t say is whether or not the clean sitewide links pointing to whatsyourconundrum.com on Jason’s private blog was part of the deal or not… but there are 5 of those links there as well, under the heading of “Daily Reads”:

 

Calacanis paid links?

 

Hopefully Matt won’t ask me to get all ninja and obtain a copy of the actual invoice… that might prove a little problematic for me. :)

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18 Responses to “The Mahalo Paid Link Evidence Trail”

  1. SEO Mofo Says:

    To be honest, it’s very discouraging to realize that you can uncover so much incriminating evidence in such a short time period, and yet the head of Google’s web spam team can’t seem to find anything. I almost regret my decision to NOT be a spammer…now that I see how easy it is to get away with it.

    Nice work here, Michael.

    -Darren

  2. David Says:

    Great detective work, but now they will just change their hosting and DNS records so next time its harder for people to be sneaky and use public whois data ;)

    I find some of the IP tracing software is also a great way to dug up interesting data like shared hosting providers, matching IP addresses…

  3. Jesus Christ Man Says:

    Who appointed you the internet Police anyway? I musta missed the parade.

    Dude, get on with your life and stop worrying about what other people are doing.

    Some people buy links and thats it. if they get caught then so be it. Perhaps Google should invest in an algorithm to detect stuff.

    Really great detective work, they sold links.

    Remove their green bar immediately. Or maybe make their site hard to find? Or even lets fine them too. Or maybe remove a finger for this hideous crime.

    Or, or maybe just get on with your life?

  4. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @Jesus Christ Man – I get the feeling that you are kind of missing the point. I would reply personally and try and help you understand (this isn’t about me drinking the Google Kool-Aid, if that helps), but you seem afraid to give me a real email. If you want further info, use a disposable email and hit me up at the email addy found on EndlessPoetry.Com.

  5. mike Says:

    I’m a former Mahalo employee. Just wanted to let you know both sites share a lot of back end data and the content that is displayed on conundrum is owned by Mahalo. Conundrum also uses Mahalo’s user base. In fact, if you log into Mahalo your session should still be valid if you visit whatsyourconundrum.com (at least this is the way it was at the time I left the company). Mahalo employees are 100% responsible for moderating content and resolving user issues that arise on whatsyourconundrum.

    Whatsyourconundrum is a Mahalo run site that features ads/branding from Conundrum Winery.

  6. Tom Says:

    Excellent research work! I was a bit skeptical on the previous post in which you discovered the link, but this information indeed shows there is something suspicious going on there. I really hope Google pulls itself together and do something about this spam site.

  7. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @mike – and that makes it less of a paid deal, how?

  8. mike Says:

    It’s Mahalo’s content with Conundrum’s ads on it. Mahalo is linking to its own content, submitted by its own users, hosted on its own servers, managed completely by its own employees. Conundrum is paying for the advertising/branding on ConundrumLand, not links to it. The contract, at least the one we had with while I was there, did not mention links.

  9. SearchCap: The Day In Search, March 15, 2010 Says:

    [...] The Mahalo Paid Link Evidence Trail, Smackdown! [...]

  10. Haluk Says:

    Google’s main revenue channel is Adsense.
    Adsense sells “text links” on google pages.
    When another site sells “text links”, that site gets punished by Google.

  11. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @Haluk – that’s wrong on a couple of levels, let’s not try and blur the issue. What Jason is doing is pretty cut and dried. AdSense is clearly marked as ads, is composed of Javascript links, and ultimately those links are blocked by robots.txt, so even if a bot processes and follows those links, they should hit a normal bot block. For example, the robots.txt on http://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/ (the domain that AdSense for content uses):

    User-Agent: *
    Disallow: /
    Noindex: /

    Jason and Mahalo, on the other hand, do none of these.

    There is enough misunderstanding and confusion out there for Jason and Google to hide behind on these issues, let’s try and not introduce more.

  12. daniel j deyette Says:

    I think the key point here is that whether intentional or not, malaho is re-selling link equity and of course scraping other people’s content for money. Regardless, Google probably doesn’t want to see them go down for some reason. But yet some reason we don’t know… Odd..

  13. Ed Jarnok Says:

    “Regardless, Google probably doesn’t want to see them go down for some reason. But yet some reason we don’t know… Odd..”

    Actually, we do know the reason, and it’s sad that I have to hide behind a fake name in order to say it…

    All you have to do is follow the money. Mahalo is backed by Sequoia. See, Google punishes websites with VC money from top-tier firms. They gave Scribd a spanking many months ago for their blackhat tactics. But Scribd isn’t backed by Sequoia. And that’s a very, very key fact.

    Follow the money..and no I’m not talking about adsense, although Jason is some premium-level adsense publisher who has special permission to show more units on the page than a normal person is allowed to..but that’s part of the larger issue.

    Google isn’t throwing a Sequoia investment down the drain.

  14. Paid Content: the New Paid Link | SEO Book.com Says:

    [...] are somewhat hard to scale because (outside of those who create a network of spam) it is time intensive to find the right sites, negotiate a price, and then ensure appropriate [...]

  15. T-Tom Says:

    Great post.

    It looks like Google is finally dealing with this spammy site:
    http://www.quantcast.com/mahalo.com

  16. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @T-Tom – yeah, that doesn’t really look like anything that was “dealt with” to me.

  17. T-Tom Says:

    Well, not “dealt with” in the removed/banned sense, but they seem to have been downgraded. Traffic seems to be down 30-40% in the past 2 mo, the reverse trend for the prior 12 months. Maybe it’s a downgrade or maybe it has something to do with Mahalo noindexing pages that are spam. Whatever the reason, it’s good to see that traffic cannot be captured so easily. Building a ton of crap pages targeting hot terms is an obvious seo play but it does not add any value to the Internet. Mahalo reminds me of Wikipedia, but with very little real value. The most I have gained from Mahalo is an occasional link to YouTube, but YouTube is the site adding the value to the web, not Mahalo.

  18. Will.Spencer Says:

    Does Matt’s comment mean that Google is completely fine with cross-links between sites?

    If you build up a large linking network, that really just means you’re selling links to yourself.

    And if Google is OK with it, that’s a big opportunity for black hat fun. :D

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