Need Help Understanding The Latest Mahalo Spam?

Posted on June 17th, 2010 at 7:30 am by Michael VanDeMar under blogthropology, Cuttisms, Google, lackofmeds, scams, SEO

On Tuesday of this week someone posted the following question to the Hacker News website: How long has Mahalo been using keyword domains like this? The link in the story points to a search in Google, [inurl:tip_guidelines mahalo]. The results of this query show a list of somewhere between 180 and 270 sites (Google doesn’t show all of them, just the first 184 or so) all belonging to Mahalo.com, all keyword rich domains, all using the Mahalo Answers platform, and all covering material that Mahalo.com already covers. I am sure most of you are familiar with that fact that Google labels sites that have little or no content and are designed to drive affiliate conversions as Thin Affiliate sites:

These sites usually have no original content and may be cookie-cutter sites or templates with no unique content. – Google Webmasters Tools Help, on sites Google does not like

These sites that Mahalo has started churning out, all that were apparently created just this year, would appear to be the AdSense version of the classic “thin affiliate” website.

I showed Matt Cutts the link to the search itself, and asked if he thought that the list of sites being returned looked spammy to him. His reply?

 

@mvandemar it's not about arbitrary inurl searches that would sway me; it's impact on users (e.g. better/worse diversity) that matters most.

 

So, yet again, for some inexplicable reason the head of the Google Web Spam team appears to be defending Jason Calacanis. Despite the numerous posts that clearly demonstrate that Jason Calacanis is spamming Google, Matt is saying that he needs proof that these new sites are spammy. Pretty much anyone else in the industry can tell at a glance what is going on, but Google’s foremost expert on the subject of spam still needs help seeing it.

That’s fine. Let’s go ahead and take a deeper look at what is happening behind the scenes with these sites. Here’s one of the new sites that deals with cooking, cooking-questions.com:

 

The new mahalo cooking site

 

336 pages indexed there. So, was the “cooking” topic on Mahalo.com not covered then…?

 

The old mahalo cooking site

 

6,680 pages currently on Mahalo Answers, all about cooking. Looking at that list you can tell from the first two listings that Mahalo has one category for “Cooking Recipes”, and a completely separate category for “Cooking and Recipes”, whereas most non-spam directories, blogs, etc. would simply have picked one or the other. If they are struggling with diversity on the main site, how is it adding the same topic to an entirely new site is going to help?

Just for the record, the new, smaller site also seems to see the need to have both of those nearly identical categories as well:

 

Cooking Recipes category

The completely different Cooking *and* Recipes category

 

Also, in case you’re thinking that maybe it’s the individual questions themselves on these new sites that are “diverse”, one of the questions on the new site is “how-do-you-know-when-corn-on-the-cob-is-fully-cooked”. Mahalo.com already has 10 pages on corn on the cob, 3 of which are: “how-long-do-you-cook-corn-on-the-cob”, “how-many-minutes-do-you-think-is-the-perfect-time-to-cook-corn-on-the-cob”, and “what-is-the-perfect-amount-of-time-to-cook-corn-on-the-cob”. Yeah, that’s diversity for ya.

Let’s look at some of the other sites, see if maybe that first one was just a fluke. The new Mahalo site for Star Wars, starwarsanswers.com:

 

The new mahalo Star Wars site

 

308 results. So, is Star Wars not handled on Mahalo.com then?

 

The Star Wars on Mahalo.com

 

1,200 results, so obviously this isn’t an example of “better diversity” either. Similar results for their Oklahoma City site, oklahomacityanswers.com:

 

Oklahoma City questions?

 

177 pages, and yet again, not new subject matter:

 

Nothing new on OK City

 

632 pages. On Oklahoma City questions. How did people manage to come up with that many questions about Oklahoma City on a site that hardly anyone ever actually goes to on purpose?

The answer, of course, is that they didn’t. On the new site there are exactly 11 actual questions as of this writing. The other 166 pages are (mostly empty) category pages, member pages, and other fluff that each of these “cookie-cutter sites or templates with no unique content” come with by default. Since this is all crap content then, why would Calacanis even bother with them? There is little to no interest in many of these subjects… what game could Jason possibly be playing here?

I know! Let’s all play:

 

Lets Play LinkFarmVille!

 

Back in February I discussed how the internal pages on Mahalo.com get almost no natural links. Almost all of their PageRank (and thus ranking power) comes from either employees linking from their blogs or it comes from scrapers. With hundreds of thousands pages to support, however, relying on that kind of sketchy link profile has a good chance of not panning out in the long run. Someone must have pointed this out to Jason, and now these mini-sites are his solution. If you can’t build enough quality pages for people to want to link to you naturally, build sites and link to yourself. Look at, for instance, the cooking site’s question on “What is the most common way to make Angel Food Cake?”:

 

Angel food cake question

 

Within just the question itself, including the title, there are 14 links, all pointing back to Mahalo.com topic pages. If we examine the link profile for those pages being linked to, we see that these linkfarms that Jason is putting up provide the majority of their link juice. For example, the first page linked to is Malao’s page on “cake”:

 

Cake links
(click to enlarge)

 

Of the 10 links listed, 4 come from scrapers, one is a url shortener that is actually on a Mahalo.com page, and the other 5 all come from Jason’s linkfarm: cooking-questions.com, parenting-questions.com, and foodiequestions.com. You can see the same is true throughout when you check the other links in the question, like the ones to the Mahalo pages on “chocolate” [link:http://www.mahalo.com/chocolate -site:mahalo.com] and “baking” [link:http://www.mahalo.com/baking -site:mahalo.com].

Some of the pages being linked to don’t exist any more, since Jason did go in and delete some content in response to a good talking to Matt Cutts gave him a couple of months ago… but that’s ok, the links are there just in case they ever decide to build those pages back out.

The embedded links aren’t the only ones on these sites, either. You also have the sidebar links pointing back to Mahalo:

 

Sidebar link spam too

 

Of course all of these little sites need some link juice themselves, in order to stay indexed and pick up some long tail rankings, which in turn with garner them some scraper backlink juice of their own. Jason’s got that covered too. For some of the pages he has redirected old pages from Mahalo.com, which acts as a reciprocal link exchange between Mahalo and the new sites. On iphoneqna.com, he has added a “Recommended Q&A Communities” block to the sidebar, which adds in an extra level of interlinking to the equation:

 

Sidebar link spam two, too

 

And of course there’s always the fall back tactic of Jason simply linking to some of these sites from his personal blog and Tumblr account to give them a little extra kick.

Like much of what Jason does, nothing in these tactics is new. Google has directly addressed the non-acceptability of this type of link building for quite a while now:

… some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. – Google Webmaster Tools Help page on Link schemes

It is spam, pure and simple. There is no added user experience, no diversity, and no reason for all of these sites, including Mahalo.com, to not get banned from Google.

Original FarmVille image attribution goes to tarikgore1.
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80 Responses to “Need Help Understanding The Latest Mahalo Spam?”

  1. Martypants Says:

    Three cheers, MVD. I can’t believe the free ride this shyster gets. And then he now has the audacity to offer SEO advice too…thank you for making this sham public. Again.

  2. Olivia Mack Says:

    These sorts of responses from Matt Cutts are pretty infuriating.. .I mean, if he was shown something like this at a conference, coming from a random source, you know he’d say that it was unacceptable. But somehow, Mahalo gets the “you’re just showing me random query strings, son” response?

    I get that he likely won’t come out on Twitter and say “Yeah Michael, going into the system to ban them right now. BRB”, but he seems to discount everything you find about Mahalo. I just like to put it into the context of What Would Matt Say if this was Pubcon Vegas and he was on stage during a site review. You know the websites wouldn’t be long for this world.

  3. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    You are 100% correct. There was a time Matt used to dream about banning sites like this:

    “What are you so happy about?” I asked.
    “My spammy dental plan site is doing really well!” Oilman replied.
    “Ah.” I sat for a few seconds and stared at the dental plan domain name that I saw on my screen. Then I turned to him and asked “Is your site named www.get-some-cheap-dental-plans-online-here.ca?”
    Oilman got a perplexed look on his face. “Yeah, how did you know the name of the site?”
    I smiled as I turned back to my computer and hit the delete key. A second later, a loud wail started from just to my right.

    From: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/seo-dreams/

  4. Jill Whalen Says:

    The question is are they ranking for anything?

    I think that might be what Matt Cutts mean. Them being indexed doesn’t mean much.

    If they’re ranking alongside of Mahalo pages for the same keyword phrases, that would be something Matt might care more about.

  5. Apreche Says:

    People complain so much about Mahalo’s spam. You know what, yes they are spammers, and they suck. But you know what? I do a lot of Google searching, and Mahalo never shows up. Ever. Their spam isn’t working. I’m sure you can find some example search where they show up at the top, but is that something people are actually searching for? And how many click the Mahalo result and don’t immediately click back when it’s not useful? And if the spammy Mahalo result is useful, is it really spam?

    The way I see it, Mahalo’s spamming is just evidence that they are not doing well. If they were doing well legitimately, they wouldn’t be resorting to spam techniques. Just ignore them. They aren’t hurting you. They’ll be dead soon enough. Calacanis loves attention, negative or positive. Best to just ignore him.

  6. SudoNonimus Says:

    Matt Cutts is right.

    Its not about how many pages or sites you have. Does each page help a user or not? If it clearly shows to be, then why mess with it.

    Does an iPhone subsite help iphone users? To some extent yes.

    This is why Matt Cutts is careful to point out the distinctition between something that looks spammy versus something that provides a benefit via diversity of content/pages.

    If Google started taking down sites because of complaints from every SEO expert, then their internet would be a bad place. We’d be constantly looking over our shoulders.

  7. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @Jill – Did you read the post?

    @Apreche – this is just as much about the “pass” that Mahalo is getting as it is about Mahalo itself. Not only do they get traffic, they are premium AdSense publishers, which means they get higher cuts and less restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Their crappiness means that it is often the case that instead of clicking back to escape their shitty results, surfers, especially non-tech ones, will instead click forward… on the ads. This is not qualified traffic for those advertisers, either, which is unfair to them, wasting money and driving up costs.

  8. Olivia Mack Says:

    @Apreche

    Totally legitimate point; I can recall a few times recently when I’ve seen Mahalo show up in UK results, but as you say, it happens, it’s not indicative of a pervasive SERP dominance.

    What pisses people off (or, what pisses me off and what likely pisses Michael off) is that if you or I were doing this, our sites would probably (definitely?) be banned and never rank for anything, let alone get waffly defences from Matt on Twitter. It’s the apparent double-standard that ruffles my feathers, at least, and the pithy responses from Matt.

  9. Olivia Mack Says:

    @Michael snap.

  10. Jill Whalen Says:

    Michael, of course I read the post!

    I must be missing where you’ve shown them ranking for stuff people use (rather than site: searches). Will review the post again to find where you showed this.

  11. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @Jill – I am sorry, are you suggesting that link farms must themselves rank for queries in order for them to be spam?

  12. Jill Whalen Says:

    No, I’m saying how do you know that they’re not already taken care of and are already considered spam?

    Something being indexed is a far cry from something showing up in the search results. Most sites that are penalized are still indexed.

    Not saying these sites are or aren’t penalized. But unless they’re showing up in the search results for actual search queries then there’s nothing for Google to fix.

  13. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=stolen+iPhone+Case (#3)
    http://www.google.com/search?q.....popularity (#1)
    http://www.google.com/search?n.....n+facebook (#9)

    So no, the sites are not penalized. Either way, though, it wouldn’t matter Jill. It doesn’t matter if linkfarms rank or not, they are still spam. The links these sites give out are boosting Mahalo.com. That is what is known as a link scheme, that is something that is against Google’s guidelines (which say nothing about “we’ll ignore your linkfarms if they do not rank”), and that’s what the post is about, Jill.

  14. Brad Dickason Says:

    I believe you misinterpreted Matt’s response. I read it as: “If it affects REAL WORLD searches, it’s a problem.” That is what I would personally be looking to prove that actual searches (not site:spammysite.com) are affected.

    Does it affect searches that are clearly targetted by the spam like:
    http://www.google.com/search?s.....ind+a+cake

    That’s the study I’d like to see :x

  15. fantomaster Says:

    They rank for a lot more besides, e.g.:

    http://www.google.com/search?h.....8;gs_rfai= (#2)
    http://www.google.com/search?h.....8;gs_rfai= (#3)
    http://www.google.com/search?h.....8;gs_rfai= (#7)
    etc.

    @Michael: Yes, I know this is not your point. However, from a technical point of view another major question at hand is this – is Mahalo somehow “privileged” by Google (which you seem to be insinuating) i.e. not subject to manual editorial penalization, or is this an algorithmic feature essentially open to everyone (as long as they’re not being snitched on by competitors or self-declared spam cops.

    The black hat SEO take on this is, of course, focused on entirely different issues than calling out “spam” in consternation. If nothing else, Google’s blatant hypocrisy is something to be leveraged…

  16. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    Why are people pretending they don’t know the function of, or have never heard of, a linkfarm?

    These satelite sites provide undeserved link juice back to Mahalo.com. Mahalo ranks for all kinds of things that are not justified or validated by their content, and they have these ranking solely due to link practices that would get the vast majority of the sites out there banned from Google.

    Ftr, no one searches for [find a cake]. Mahalo is in the top 20 for [bake a cake], however, despite the fact that the page that is ranking has exactly 1 semi-natural link pointing at it.

  17. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @fantomaster – well, if it is exploitable, then it would be the first “snitch proof” exploit I have ever seen. :)

  18. fantomaster Says:

    Haha, didn’t claim that, did I? Point being: how much of an effect does snitching actually have – and on whom?
    Lots of stuff you can that won’t last for more than a couple of weeks, maybe, but that will more than pay for itself.
    Which, of course, is quite another topic…

  19. Jason Says:

    1. I’m not sure how much you know about SEO, but the links between all of these sites–which are on the same servers–have not value. To call them a link farm is silly. We are linking to similar content and communities we have. This makes sense, if you are on a Farmville Q&A site you might want more Farmville content on Mahalo.com.

    2. These sites will rise or fall based on the quality of the content and the community. It’s that simple.

    3. There are many upstanding companies like Internet Brands which have done very well building niche communities:
    http://www.internetbrands.com/.....utomotive/
    http://www.internetbrands.com/our-brands/health/

    Not sure why you would consider Mahalo’s efforts any different. If we build 1,000 niche communities that help people is there something wrong with that? I’m confused.

    4. We’ve run what we’re doing by SEO after SEO–including Aaron Wall–and no one can tell me one thing we’re doing that is even close to grey, let alone black.

    This is clearly all fallout from my quip that “SEO is BS” from five or six years ago. Let’s move on shall we?

    all the best,

    Jason

  20. Jason Says:

    Also, a better example than the how to bake a cake one is our how to bake salmon page.

    As you can see, we rank #1-5 for that page and it has earned that ranking due to the exceptional content and video!

    www.mahalo.com/how-to-bake-salmon

    Also, do a search for “how to play guitar chords” and you’ll find this exceptional page with a dozen or so videos we’ve produced. So, we are very focused on quality and building out really valuable pages.

    www.mahalo.com/how-to-play-guitar-chords

    Do some of our contributors make lower quality pages? Sure, sometimes. However, those pages rarely rank–google/yahoo gets it right!

    If one of our lower quality pages ranks/gets any traffic we go invest another $300 to $3,000 in it. Really, we are investing hundreds to low thousands in our top 5,000 pages in order to BE THE BEST PAGE ON THE INTERNET for that topic.

    That’s really our plan: build a lot of pages and then double and triple down on the quality of the ones that rank. It’s a good strategy I think.

    all the best,

    Jason

  21. Michael VanDeMar Says:
    That’s really our plan: build a lot of pages and then double and triple down on the quality of the ones that rank. It’s a good strategy I think.

    It’s a spam strategy, and it is in direct opposition to the “build quality content and the links will happen naturally” that Google claims it is looking for.

    Rankings are not earned by content, a fact that has been demonstrated using contentless fluff pages on Mahalo by myself and others in the past. The natural order of things is that quality content attracts links that then signal to Google that the site is something that people would be looking for.

    And Jason, I think you know damn well this has nothing to do with anything that happened 6 years ago.

  22. Jason Says:

    Michael,

    Thanks for the quick reply. Not sure I follow how it is a spam strategy. We have humans write pages of at least 300 words. We don’t index 99.99% of pages with < 300 (it would have to be something unique), and we police the system to get short pages up to 300 words within 30 days.

    Google Knol, Squidoo, Wikipedia, Gawker and Associated Content don't have any 300 word requirement. We've been forced due to the jihad against us by the SEO community to set our standard 10x higher than everyone else's!

    That's fine with me, I like quality content and that's what I focus on (i.e. Engadget, Autoblog, Joystiq, Silicon Alley Reporter, This Week in Startups, ThisWeekIn.com, etc).

    We are doing a somewhat open community site, so we can't control all aspects of quality in advance… we can respond to them quickly however.

    The quality at Mahalo is amazing and getting better and better…. please take a look at how to play guitar chords, how to bake salmon or www.mahalo.com/how-to-make-a-mai-tai and let me know what you think.

    If you find a lower quality page do let us know and you'll see it rocket up in terms of quality. we're working hard on quality every day.

    again, apologies for insulting SEOs five or six years ago and we really appreciate the great advice SEOs keep giving us (for free!).

    the last set of changes had us drop a little bit of traffic, but increased our revenue by 2.5x. We're taking all that money (and it's a lot!) and investing it in more quality content, video and rewards for people who answer questions.

    We are going to be one of the top 25 sites in another two or three years based on our investing in quality content and writers.

  23. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    Jason, have read any of the other posts I have written about Mahalo? I know you blocked me on Twitter, so maybe you missed where I called you on all of your bullshit statements in the past, or maybe you simply don’t have the attention span to keep straight who called you on what, but it is quite annoying that you are trying to lie about this shit after I already posted counter evidence.

    You might want to go back an re-read what was posted over the past few months. Also a) stop whining about people holding grudges over your past douchebaggery, I already stated this has nothing to do with the past, this is about the here and now, and b) stop dropping links to Mahalo in a post discussing your spamming behaviors. It’s in poor taste.

  24. Jason Says:

    Thanks for the feedback Michael.

    If you’re going to call me names this thread is probably no longer of value to anyone.

    We’ve got a hard-working group of honest folks here at Mahalo trying to build content that helps people. Please do take a look at our best content and know that we’re aiming to get all of our pages to that level.

    We are, of course, a work in progress and we take all the insights you and others in the SEO community give to us. Of course, it would be nicer if you didn’t call me names… which is why I blocked you on twitter.

    all the best,

    Jason

  25. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    Actually Jason, I didn’t call you anything, I was referring to your behavior. I am sorry that you feel it is more appropriate to be passive aggressive, call people trolls who point out your behavior, to play the wounded bird whenever you get caught doing something, and to be generally dishonest than it is to be upfront, but I do happen to believe that honesty is the best policy.

  26. Jason Says:

    If you feel these is content we can improve let me know, we’ll improve it.

    If there is something wrong with our SEO you don’t really have to worry about it because the search engine teams are watching Mahalo like a hawk thanks to Aaron, yourself and your pals.

    We are under the microscope, and although that sucks because we can’t make any mistakes, it is resulting in us bringing out A-Game.

    Our team is absurdly focused on quality and we’re deindexing pages that don’t have it.

    I can 100% guarantee we will be in the top 100 sites on quantcast in the next or two based on the quality of our content, community and technology.

    We’re not taking ANY shortcuts… all of our growth is based on quality content. Period.

    Good luck to you in the future and hold on because we’re bringing the good stuff! :-)

    best jason

  27. Ben Cook Says:

    Jason, seriously, the people reading this site have all heard your standard answers before. If you want to engage, come up with new responses or you know, actually tell the truth.

    Also, I find it interesting you claim to have run this strategy by Aaron. I’ll check in with him to see if that’s accurate or not.

  28. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    Jason, here is the core issue with discussing this with you… it takes time and energy to research and validate the data I present. It takes no effort whatsoever to spew back an unsubstantiated “no we’re not” reply.

    I fear that you are either dishonest, or delusional. In one of the earlier threads on HN you claimed that seo’s were logging into Mahalo and creating all of those spam pages in order to blog about them (with me being the blogger in question, so basically you were accusing me of lying). Stating that you are either dishonest or delusional is not name calling – there is no way that a rational person, presented with the data that I put forth in that post, could honestly say that it was anything other than your site set up to create auto-generated contentless pages. In fact, if this were not the case, and those pages had panned out to be legitimate, then there would have been no reason to get rid of them. They were not legit, Matt Cutts warned you about them, and you removed them.

    Your site has tons of pages that are nothing more than scraped content from Wikipedia. You know this, you defend this, yet you still insist that your site is “human powered”. Again, a sane person cannot honestly believe those two traits are anything but contradictory.

    You want people to believe you…?

    Our team is absurdly focused on quality and we’re deindexing pages that don’t have it.

    Fine. Backup the site. Scrap everything, then go through the backup and add the quality pages back in by hand. Start over and do it right this time. Pretend that Google actually did the right thing and banned you, and the only way they would listen to a reinclusion request is if you actually met their guidelines.

  29. Stuart Says:

    Do a search for ‘McDonalds coupons’ these are the latest rubbish pages that simply tell people to go to other coupon sites to find the coupons. Good user experience? ;)

  30. aaron wall Says:

    “We’ve run what we’re doing by SEO after SEO–including Aaron Wall–and no one can tell me one thing we’re doing that is even close to grey, let alone black.”

    Thanks for the deflecting name drop. ;)

    But in fact you did not run *anything* by me. And, to set the record straight, indeed I did highlight how you were doing some pretty aggressive black hat practices. The post I did on Mahalo.com has even been listed as the lead case study on BlackHatSEO.com.

    Worth mentioning that you had to de-index a ton of spam pages after getting some exposure, and from the looks of it there are just more of them elsewhere now. But no matter how much polish you put on a turd … it is still a turd!

    Great posts Michael & great comments Fantomaster. The web needs more of this :D

  31. TRY Says:

    What about a page like this:
    http://www.oklahomacityanswers.....-usa-crown

    Look at the linked words in the body of the question. They are a little random – ‘first runner up’ , ‘crowned queen’ etc – and all link back to dead pages at mahalo.com

    What’s the argument – that these links boost mahalo pagerank?

  32. Andrew Says:

    “4. We’ve run what we’re doing by SEO after SEO–including Aaron Wall–and no one can tell me one thing we’re doing that is even close to grey, let alone black. ” – Jason C

    Aaron Wall seems to say in this article that Mahalo is black hat..
    http://www.seobook.com/black-hat-seo-case-study

  33. Jason Says:

    TRY,

    Like Wikipedia or Wikia you can double bracket [[ ]] words on Mahalo and have them send you to a search or a topic page. We do this so we can a) provide value or b) get folks to a search result (which is not SEOed/indexed). that page also helps us recruit new writers.

    We get zero SEO value from those double brackets, as these sites are all on the same machines. If we wanted to do blackhat stuff we could have put these Q&A sites all over the world on technology different platforms and IP addresses. We didn’t do that because we’re not into the short term tricks.

    What we do is try to build real communities and content that help people. i think some folks are obsessing about the short pages in the past–we deindexed those!

    What more would you like us to do, than have the CEO of the company come to your site three or four times, thank you for the advice and then take it?

    Really guys…. let’s all get back to making killer content that helps people! :-)

    best j

  34. TRY Says:

    “We get zero SEO value from those double brackets, as these sites are all on the same machines.”

    Really? Matt Cutts seems pretty confident when he says that having sites on the same ‘machine’ or IP address doesn’t impact SEO one way or the other.

    Think about it for a minute – all the GoDaddy or WordPress hosted blogs would have their links ignored for SEO purposes if they happened to link to a site hosted on the same machine? Makes no sense. Links from different domains are links from different domains, bottom line.

  35. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @Jason, TRY is absolutely right by the way. Matt cleared this up on my post from Tuesday:

    http://smackdown.blogsblogsblo.....ment-50047

    Unless you are spamming they don’t discount links from the same IP.

    Oh… wait…

  36. Ditch the spam on SERPs, pretty please? Says:

    [...] Learn more from Aaron and Michael, who’ve both invested their valuable time to craft out detailled spam reports, to no [...]

  37. Stewart Robinson Says:

    Regardless of whether this is Jason Calacanis or not I don’t really see a problem here. As a consumer if I want to ask cooking questions on a site that specializes in cooking q&a then I would feel fine asking them on Jason’s q&a site. Why would I ask questions on a site called mahalo. I have no idea what a mahalo is.

  38. jdk Says:

    @ jason “We’ve run what we’re doing by SEO after SEO–including Aaron Wall–and no one can tell me one thing we’re doing that is even close to grey, let alone black.”

    @Aaron “But in fact you did not run *anything* by me. ”

    Seems like an out and out lie to me. Perhaps Jason would like to clarify – Coming from the SpAd industry I am sure there are a few replies he could use.

  39. Jason Says:

    When I say we run this by SEO after SEO, I mean they are looking at us–for free–under a microscope. So, Aaron wall has been slamming us over every tiny detail and we listen, discuss it with him and take his advice OVER and OVER again.

    Aaron is *officially* our staff VP of SEO! He’s made about 25+ changes to our strategy and for that we love him. Our staff hangs on his every suggestion. That fact that he does it gratis and in his mind *unofficially* does not mean we don’t consider him our SEO of record. :-)

    best jcal

  40. Carl Bartlett Says:

    @Michael Keep laying down the Smackdown! I love it when I see a new post from your blog in my RSS feed. Aaron’s reply had me laughing my but off. I think that writing post like this and managing your comments feed so well must require a lot of time, effort and fortitude… Respect!

  41. fantomaster Says:

    Seeing that it’s obviously “coming out” time now, I regret I have to announce that we’ve just fired Jason Calacanis as our company’s CILM (“Clandestine Investors Liaison Manager”). Yes, I know he seems to think he’s never been anything of the kind but that’s really not our problem, is it?

    On a sidenote, all these cloaked management staffing strategies do seem to lend the term “shadow economy” an entirely new twist…

  42. Jason Says:

    Oh yeah… check out how amazing our how to bake a cake and strawberry shortcake pages are

    www.mahalo.com/how-to-bake-a-cake
    www.mahalo.com/how-to-make-strawberry-shortcake

    we are in the top 20 for both searches and i think we are MUCH better than the pages that are in front of us.

    we have invested over $750 in each of these pages to date… including ORIGINAL video.

    For those folks on this thread who don’t understand SEO, let me educate you on two things:

    1. if you want a great rank build a page that is better than the top 20 search results that ALREADY exist.

    2. if you get into the top 20 links then do REINVEST your profits from that page… in other word double down.

    The reason I’ve been very successful in life and content is because i DOUBLE DOWN. If you look at the amazing content sites I’ve created with AMAZING teams it is this DOUBLE DOWN philosophy that has made me so great as an entrepreneur.

    For example:

    www.engadget.com — we took the first $50k in ad revenue from the site and invested it in sending 10 people to CES and blog the Sh@#$%@#$t out of that… we then became the #1 gadget blog and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both said they read it DAILY.

    what site have you losers built that bill gates and steve jobs read daily? i didn’t thinks so!

    also, This week in Startups now has over 100k downloads of each show and has featured the founders/CEOs of companies like Yammer, Geni, ChallengePost, Blippy, giltgroup, posterous, groupon and zappos to name just a few. weve done over 50 shows… also we produce Kevin Pollak’s award winning chat show that has had sick celebrities.

    that’s called QUALITY content…. and that is what i do. i make AMAZING brands with AMAZING content and i spend every nickle i make on DOUBLING DOWN on content.

    then i sell these companies for tens of millions of dollars…. that is what i do. i build value.

    look in the mirror kids… what do you do besides throw rocks at my feet?

    exactly.

    bury yourselves!

    xoxoo jcal

  43. rishil Says:

    LinkFarmville is just about the right name. Call it whatever lese you want – satellite sites, niche communities etc. Any SEO worth their boots knows how to build one, and knows how to rank using one.

    It seems this is a multiple strategy approach – Burn and Churn as Fantomaster says, and Scattergun SERPs.
    The first is creating loads of disposable sites – see if they rank – then link out using them – drop some adsense and collect as well.
    The second is drop loads of long tail phrases per site as a page with light content – see which one ranks – and then inflate the ranking pages with actually decent content to justify the ranking. (easier to shoot a bird with a scatter gun in the bush than with a sniper rifle!)

    Either way – both are spammy tactics… (and have made a lot of money for a lot of people)

  44. MarcusTheWilson Says:

    The very nature of the art of SEO is corrupting. The goal is to deceive a computer program and reap a benefit.

    The problem is that if your web kingdom wants to be successful you need to have at least a few black wizards to keep you alive.

    I say don’t hate on @jason but understand he’s grinding to get that gold and sometimes you get a little dirty.

    Thanks

  45. Gil Says:

    Jason, can you explain why you started hiding your Quantcast data after writing months ago that you were going to tell the world about how you support Quantcast? You just commented on how successful you are in life and in content. Why hide the evidence of that success?

  46. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @jason – again, stop dropping links to Mahalo. I should not have to ask that twice. It’s that deliberate passive aggressive behavior I discussed already. Knock it off.

    i think we are MUCH better

    Google does not rank on your opinion of which is better, nor do they rank on quality content. They rank primarily on votes via links, votes which through multiple avenues you have been shown to be manipulating, and on matching content. I have already demonstrated a whole fuckload of pages, in previous posts, that ranked just fine with fully automated content and in some cases completely devoid of content altogether simply due to link juice, the title, and some header tags. What the hell do you have to be huffing to continue to post that you think it’s the quality of your non-quality site that Google is looking at?

    By the way, 20k pages at $750 comes to $15 million. You have 90,283 “content” pages on the main site and 184,018 “question” pages on Mahalo Answers (many of which are also auto-generated content). How much quality are you actually thinking you are going to build with your current strategy and budget, and are your investors aware of the fact that you are spending $750 per page on cakes, especially when pages with no content whatsoever seem to rank just fine?

  47. Jason Says:

    1. re: Mahalo links…. they are not active, i’m just trying to make my point that we have AMAZING content. someone else brought up this page and I responded… How would you like me to do that my master of SEO?!?! :-)

    2. We turned off Quantcast for now because we are doing these vertical Q&A sites and i didn’t want to tip our strategy. We knew at some point folks would find out–and the SEOs were the ones! thus the reason i say that Aaron Wall is our SEO of record–he checks EVERYTHIGN we do like a madman!! :-) also, i didn’t want to show WHICH sites were working–again competitive advantage. We will turn Quantcast back on once we have all 500 niche Q&A sites launched and to a specific level of traffic.

    3. I actually think Google does learn quality over time by the minutes spent on the page, how far down the page people go, etc. I think they get this info from our AdSense, Google Analytics and Toolbar data. Google knows ALL ABOUT our site from these sources IMO. I think they know which pages in our library have AMAZING investment and content, and which ones we haven’t invested in yet!

    4. We have invested $5,000 in some pages and $5 in others…. over time we will invest $1,000 in EVERY SINGLE one of our pages. We make millions of dollars a year right now and reinvest ALL OF IT. Plus we raised $20M for Mahalo… that is all being invested in the quality of the site. Who knows, we might raise ANOTHER $20-50M before we’re done, and that too will be invested in quality content. I can actually raise an unlimited amount of money based on my reputation and the brands i’ve built–i just choose not to at this point because we don’t need the money and we can only spend it so fast.

    If you guys need any help with your SEO, cotent, raising money, developing community, etc. please go ahead and let me know your questions and i will ask them.

    As you know, I’m here for fellow entrepreneurs… that’s why I do This Week in Startups, Open Angel Forum (did you see the WSJ story last week?!?!) and TechCrunch50, now known as The Launch Conference.

    instead of going to war with me, you guys should develop a positive relationship with me like other folks have and i will help you grow your businesses. i’ve angel invested in 10 companies this year, and helped 50+ get in front of the most powerful angel investors. i founded the TechCrunch50/Launch Conference which gave a platform for PowerSet, Mint, Yammer, FitBit, Clickable and countless other amazing companies to launch.

    you are wasting your 15 minutes with me being haters…. you should spend the limited attention you have with me trying to partner with me to do great things! you got me in your thread and you should realize what an opportunity that is to network with me.

    seriously, i have great relationships with some SEOs like Michael Gray, who i recommend to many of my portfolio companies. if you guys had half a brain you would stop the attacking and start making money with me.

    just some basic business advice… hating is wasted time…. collaborating is not! :-)

    jcal!

  48. Michael VanDeMar Says:
    re: Mahalo links… they are not active

    What does that even mean, the links “are not active”? What links are you talking about?

  49. rishil Says:

    @MVD – I think Jason means the link dropping you are referring to.

  50. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    Ah, they are inactive because I went in and edited them out. And we have all seen the content, it is not amazing, no need to link to it.

  51. TRY Says:

    Jason, again, if you actually believe this: “We get zero SEO value from those double brackets, as these sites are all on the same machines.” then, sadly, you have no business running a content site. Do you think Google is that dumb?

    If you’ve helped so many people, why aren’t the people that you’ve actually done business with jumping to your defense?…

  52. Donal Says:

    “The reason I’ve been very successful in life and content is because i DOUBLE DOWN. If you look at the amazing content sites I’ve created with AMAZING teams it is this DOUBLE DOWN philosophy that has made me so great as an entrepreneur.”

    Summary: I am awesome, go meeeeeee!!!
    Commentary: You are a narcissist.

    “what site have you losers built that bill gates and steve jobs read daily?”

    Summary: you are losers, I should know, because I rock (see above)
    Commentary: ad hominem arguments against your opponents do not help your case. You just make yourself look like a douce. You are a douche.

  53. Jason Says:

    Donal: the ad hominem attacks started about 45 comments ago. I’m making a point to the haters on this thread–and haters are by definition losers. The fact is, the haters are losing a huge opportunity to have me on their side… and their hating only builds my brand. When stupid people hate on you it makes you look even better…. and that’s what the angry SEOs are: childish and stupid.

    If you get the attention of a big dog like me, you should use it to do business–not hate.

    JCAL out!

  54. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    Jason, you are delusional. You are being called out for the repeated dishonest tactics that you use, the fact that you are two faced about those tactics, and the fact that sidestep every single issue with chaff about the supposed “quality” that no one but you sees. To respond to very valid criticisms with “fuck you losers, I’m rich” honestly makes me wonder if you are supposed to be on medications that you are refusing to take.

    Your inability to be honest borders on the pathological, an I for one would want nothing to do with you in any kind of business type setting.

  55. Brian Wilson Says:

    Here’s an opinion from a passive observer of this conversation –

    Michael, you seem way too angry about this. It makes it seem like your motivation is personal rather than authentic. I can almost see you slapping your keyboard and yelling at your monitor.

    Jason, I don’t know enough about these SEO issues to have a judgment but impressive restraint and professionalism in your responses.

    The nice thing about starting a business is you get to run it the way you like. Obviously Jason and Michael run their businesses differently but I don’t get why it has to get personal. Stop assigning motivations to other people especially when they tell you directly why they are doing something.

  56. Donal Says:

    “haters on this thread–and haters are by definition losers”

    So according to this definition, xenophobia haters and pedophilia haters are losers?

    “haters are losing a huge opportunity to have me on their side… and their hating only builds my brand”

    Did it ever occur to you that perhaps these people have no interest in working with you?

    “When stupid people hate on you it makes you look even better”

    Overwhelmingly, the arguments against your business practices seem logical and well-considered. Of course it’s possible you’re right and the SEO experts are wrong, but there is another possibility.

    “that’s what the angry SEOs are: childish and stupid.”

    Trying to win an argument by calling people ‘losers’ is pretty childish. Your constant personal attacks of Jimmy Wales is very childish. Irrelevant boasting about your big bank balance is childish.

    “If you get the attention of a big dog like me”

    Have a bone, big dog.

    “JCAL out!”

    I’m not playing anymore either

  57. Donal Says:

    I just re-read these remarks:

    “The fact is, the haters are losing a huge opportunity to have me on their side”

    “If you get the attention of a big dog like me, you should use it to do business–not hate.”

    So basically what Jason is saying is that because he is a “big dog”, you should not disagree with him, because it will cost you an opportunity to do business with him. Does this rationale apply regardless of whether your criticism is justified?

    BTW, evidently Jason can’t fight his own battles, as he put the following message on Twitter to encourage his legion of fans to support him here:

    “epic threat of me torturing SEO haters/jayters…. join me in this epic comment thread!! :-p”

  58. zOMG! Jason Calacanis Lied Again?? Shocker! | Smackdown! Says:

    [...] domains they were apparently building out) I wrote a post explaining in some detail how the latest Mahalo spam is in fact spam. I demonstrated in the post how Jason had developed a linkfarm which was being used as a link [...]

  59. I can do math Says:

    Jason: “This is clearly all fallout from my quip that “SEO is BS” from five or six years ago.”

    Last I checked, 2010-2008 was 2, not six.

  60. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @mathy – Also, just to be clear, this has nothing to do with that, and Jason is fully aware of that. One of his philosophies is that if you cannot address the facts, distract from them.

  61. Weekly Search & Social News: 06/22/2010 | Search Engine Journal Says:

    [...] Need Help Understanding The Latest Mahalo Spam? – Michael is at it again, and since I do enjoy some good drama, we simply muse include into the fold. [...]

  62. Wille Says:

    the best irony is of course that just before unveiling Mahalo, Calacu**is was a very vocal critic of SEO in any shape or form (even completely legitimate practices), calling anyone doing any SEO “scum”..

  63. mondex1 Says:

    I was linked to Mahalo few times before by clicking the cooking sites. I thought it was just coincidence. But I wonder why Jason can get away with this? Is it because Google overlooked it or he is like influential and powerful in Google. But this matter should be addressed properly by Google.

  64. Martypants Says:

    “But this matter should be addressed properly by Google.”

    I think this is the whole point, and the reason SEOs get so passionate about this sham – preferential treatment makes no sense from a company that claims to understand evil and avoid it. The fact Mahalo brags about it, gets publicly called out on it and still gets to do it is amazing.

  65. Lynn P. Says:

    How is Mahalo different from dozens of other sites using apparently flat-broke writers to fill in spammy content for pittance? About.com and eHow.com has been doing this for years. Now a slew of “writing” sites are popping up with apparently the same game plan – Gather.com (that teaches a perverted version of SEO, so they’re users will do the work for them), Helium, Suite101, Squidoo, and more up-and-comers than I can notice. (And, I’m a flat-broke writer, so do notice. lol) The entire thing messes up the SERPs for people truly trying to search phrases, so I’m a bit lost why Mahalo is the only one that is bothering you. It’s new.

    Check out the SERPs for older sites. Gather.com has recently hit the top 400 websites, according to some sources, and their game plan is, at best, gray hat. If you know the names of these sites (and it’s hard to keep up, they are sprouting so quickly), you’re almost guaranteed to find “content” from them in the top 10 searches for just about anything.

    Read some of those results. Gather teaches people about the top topics of the day through Alexa (without teaching them why they are doing it, other than to get more visits to their “posts.”) The problem with that site is originally it was toted as a social networking site for writers, so if you want to learn more about Tony Hayward, you’re just as likely to find a poem about the name, not even the man, on that site.

    Seems to me, you’re missing half the picture. Sure, Mahalo is doing it, too, but it’s been going on for a few years now, and other sites are “better” at it. Have you ever read some of these articles? The reliability factor is up to par with a car made out of feathers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out someone is teaching us how to make a car out of feathers.

    Truthfully, people think they can make money doing this. Strangely, some times they can. The problems are – can you stop someone from trying to make money on the Internet? If you think you have that right, where do you draw the line?

    And, in reverse, as someone who does want my sites to stay on the top page of the SERPs, and as someone who really does want to be able to find a part to a clock when I need one, I have no idea how to deal with this fairly.

  66. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @Lynne – I am well aware of the fact that the serps are suffering and that Mahalo is not the only offender, but none of the other sites out there have CEO’s out there that have Matt Cutts telling them to clean up their act or else, and then continue to blatantly lie about what they are doing, with the head of the Google web spam team making up excuses for them.

    Also, Mahalo is not new, they have been around for a few years now.

  67. Lynn P. Says:

    @Michael VanDeMar
    Dang! They’re not new? Sorry, assumed by the few sites they do have. Does Matt listen to Jason? (Hey, I’m too small time to someone like Matt, so I don’t know who he listens to. lol)

    I didn’t mean to imply that Mahalo was nothing. It feels like the top of an iceberg, and truthfully, I don’t even think it’s the top. I think this is just part of a bigger problem with my experience on some of these other “writer generated content” sites. I have read his exchange, and know the likes of him elsewhere.

    I also am learning quickly the principles (in both senses of the word) behind use of the Internet. The giants don’t legally have to do anything, and often opt to do nothing. If they opt to do nothing with cyberstalkers, why would they opt to do something with “borderline” cases? Google may not be the only game in town, but they are THE game in town. If we’re participating online, we can’t quit Google because of their decisions.

    Can their decisions actually be swayed by what anyone says?

  68. daniel Says:

    good work here. excellent research. im not sure how mahalo is still getting away with this. you should run for google spam sheriff. great job

  69. balinesecat Says:

    My favorite example from the Calacanis spamfolio … his Canadian Pharmacy “community” :-)

    http://www.canadianpharmacyquestions.com

  70. Jesus Christ Man Says:

    Michael,

    Dude, you have too much respect for the rules; if Google said in it’s TOS “please only do SEO wearing green clothes” – I bet you’d be dressed as a leprechaun in a flash.
    Have you ever considered that putting your energy into outing criminals, hackers, phishers, 419ers or even peodos would be slightly better than a man trying to make a buck (legally) in life?
    I am not a Jason fan but I am jumping to his defence as i have much more respect for a guy trying, right or wrong, than one pointing out anothers faults.
    You will, in your own mind, think that you are doing the world (Google) a favour and many others of your ilk will jump on a band wagon to kick a man.
    So what JC lied. He is in business and business is a hustle no matter what you do to some degree. Cut the guy some slack and grow up a bit. I can see why JC bit back with the “im rich and successful and you are a wannabe” as he had tried to appease you and you kept going.
    Have you noticed Google keep quiet in the most? Its their search engine, they can deal with it. They know about it.
    You come across as bitter and angry.

    Jason – stop spamming so obviously dude as you are gifting the bored and bitter. Also, drop me a line as I would happily network with you. Ill email you!

  71. Michael VanDeMar Says:
    i have much more respect for a guy trying, right or wrong, than one pointing out anothers faults.

    Which you say as a precursor to pointing out what you perceive as my faults. Whatever. If you want to be taken seriously then drop both the anonymity and the double standard.

  72. john Says:

    Mahalo is now copying pages straight from wiki:

    http://www.mahalo.com/caron-wheeler
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caron_Wheeler

    http://www.mahalo.com/the-funk-brothers
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Funk_Brothers

  73. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    @john – that has been going on for a while now:

    http://smackdown.blogsblogsblo.....wikipedia/

  74. Demand Media’s eHow.com Using Interesting Expired Domain Redirect SEO Strategy | SEO Book.com Says:

    [...] to fear, Demand Media is a trusted Google partner, so the algorithm and engineers are prohibited to take action against the same activity which would get your website removed from the search [...]

  75. Demand Media Hit New Lows Says:

    [...] like Aaron Wall said: Not to fear, Demand Media is a trusted Google partner, so the algorithm and engineers are prohibited to take action against the same activity which would get your website removed from the search [...]

  76. c vos Says:

    All SEO’s ask from Google is to be treated the same as any other webmaster or company. In general SEO’s lack the resources or clout to be given a free pass for pushing limits.

    If Aaron Wall or Oilman or another successful marketer created a content aggregation website similar to Mahalo, would it immediately be banned by Google? Would they have a chance of defending their content aggregation strategies, website scraping and partnerships with the webspam team?

    Historically, Google has approached SEO with a shoot first, ask questions later philosophy. All these discussions could be solved if Google publicly said: any SEO can create a site similar to Mahalo/ehow/associatedcontent and we would not have a problem with it.

    From @jason This is perhaps the best comment of the year:
    “We’ve run what we’re doing by SEO after SEO–including Aaron Wall–and no one can tell me one thing we’re doing that is even close to grey, let alone black.”

    I would give anything to have this message in the footer of mahalo.com and all of Calacanis’s emails:

    I’m Aaron Wall and I approve this message.

  77. Mason Says:

    Let me tell you about my experience with Mahalo. I was building some coupon sites where I would find coupons to local restaurants and present them. I was also monetizing with adsense.

    If you don’t know, Mahalo has tons of these and they consistently rank #1.

    Well, it was my personal mission to rank ahead of Mahalo for one of my sites. I managed to do it with a massive backlinking campaign. I took the #1 spot and I made $700 in one month from Adsense on that one site.

    About 2 weeks after taking over #1, I got a letter from the restaurant’s attorney stating my site violated their trademarks and I needed to remove it or be sued.

    Not wanting a legal battle I removed the site and asked the attorney about Mahalo and why they could advertise but I couldn’t.

    I got no response from the attorney and they told me to never use the name of the restaurant on any site again.

    I’m guessing Mahalo will never be banned from Google because Jason is helping Google to make tons of money.

    Quite honestly, even though I was frustrated with Mahalo ranking ahead of me, and then my site being forced down, I have no problem with Jason.

    I think that he should keep doing what he’d doing until his site is deindexed. I mean he’s making a killing, why hold it against him. Google should be who you are slamming.

  78. Michael VanDeMar Says:

    These posts are just as much about Google as they are about Jason. The only difference is that the Google employees, while they aren’t doing what they should be in regards to these types of issues, are not complete douche bags about it.

  79. Why Does Google Police Links While Ignoring Garbage Content? | SEO Book Says:

    [...] Jason Calacanis lied repeatedly about “experimental pages” and other such nonsense. But when his schemes were highlighted he was offered the benefit of the doubt. eHow also enjoys that benefit of the doubt. It [...]

  80. Heidi Says:

    Great informative article. I really wonder how Mahalo continues to get away with this. Now copying pages straight from wikipedia??! What a joke!

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