Meet the New Spam, Worse than the Old Spam

Last week, after Matt Cutts gave Jason Calacanis a warning about’s spammier pages (and probably a few stern looks as well), Jason changed a few items. He had them rename their spambot from “searchclick” to “stub”, thinking a less obvious name would throw off anyone looking into the spam situation. Very briefly they added a noindex meta tag to the content-less pages (a change that they then undid after just one day, of course). Probably the biggest change that they made, however, is that they decided to actually turn off (for now anyways) the bot that was creating all of those pages that were nothing more than scraped content.

What then, you may ask yourself, is Jason going to replace all of these pages with, exactly? I know that’s what I was asking. As I pointed out in my post last month, those autogenerated pages compose the vast majority of the 350,000+ pages on that Google has indexed. Since Mahalo’s rankings rely in good part on the sheer number of these pages (and the miniscule amounts of PageRank that each is capable of pulling in from scraper sites) simply removing them would be potentially disastrous for Mahalo, both in terms of rankings and subsequently in traffic, and therefore revenue. Jason knows this, so in preparation for getting rid of them altogether (or at least in getting them to outnumber the empty pages, in order to satisfy Matt Cutts that there is more than just spam on the site) he greatly increased the number of actual user generated pages getting pumped out.

The problem, as any webmaster who has relied on obtaining content they themselves did not write can tell you, is that the only economical way to greatly increase content production without greatly increasing your content budget is to sacrifice quality. In this instance it looks like Mahalo decided to simply toss “quality” out the window altogether.

The old automated pages that Mahalo was predominantly made up of were for the most part borderline spam. They did not really add anything to the internet, and gave an extremely poor user experience, but while technically they were spam (being nothing more than AdSense wrapped in scraped content), apparently they were just gray enough for Matt Cutts to warn Jason instead of outright banning him. With these new pages, however, there is nothing “borderline” about it… they directly fly in the face of Google’s Webmaster Quality Guildelines. In fact, Matt Cutts has actually quoted the relevant guidelines on his own blog in the past:

“Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.” and “Avoid ‘doorway’ pages created just for search engines, or other ‘cookie cutter’ approaches…” – Matt Cutts, quoting Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines on “what not to do”

Take, for example, this list of pages, all of which were published on Mahalo over the past few weeks:

Anyone else noticing a pattern here? While some naive reader might think that perhaps there is a substantial difference between finding free wifi in Columbus, Ohio and finding free wifi in Fort Worth, Texas, a quick look at the articles themselves shows this to not be the case. For instance, in the Boston article:

“This how-to guide talks about three popular types of businesses that tend to offer free wifi”

In the Baltimore article:

“This page gives you three different examples of types of places you can go around the city of Baltimore for free wifi wifi when you need it most.”

In the Charlotte article:

“Though there are several types of businesses in Charlotte that offer free wifi, this page focuses on helping you find individual establishments in three popular categories.”

In truth the articles in general all talk about 4 types places to get free wifi: 1) hotels, 2) restaurants/coffee shops, 3) book stores/libraries, and 4) airports. What they do though is mix and match them, for more variety. All of these articles are nothing more than what is known as “rewrites” of each other, and hardly qualify as “unique content”. The whole purpose of doing this is so that they can take a single article and use it to try and rank for all of those different cities. It is the epitome of “substantially duplicate content” that has been “created just for search engines”.

Another of the more blatant rewrite topics they started churning out recently is “how to become a travel agent {insert location here}”:

I found those, plus at least 53 more, all published in the past month. Now, while it may seem odd to publish so many different geo-specific copies of “how to become a travel agent in…”, a keyword combination that probably gets little to no traffic whatsoever, by doing it this way it gives them a chance to pick up rankings for the more obvious search phrase, [travel agent {destination}]. In fact, for some of the lesser competition destinations, such as Vermont, we can see that Mahalo does indeed manage to rank:


Mahalo travel agent rankings


The last form of Mahalo doorway page that I want to touch on in this post isn’t geo-based, but rather designer-label based. For instance, consider all of these pages having to do with Christian Louboutin, Luxury French shoe and bag designer:

All of these thin pages could easily be combined into a single page, but by doing so Mahalo would lose out on the opportunity to rank for long tail phrases that splitting them up offers. Some of the pages, in fact, offer no actual content whatsoever (such as the “Christian Louboutin Coupons”, which merely tells the user that the Christian Louboutin company doesn’t have coupons), and exist solely in case someone searches for that particular term. Additionally, all of these pages allow for more interlinking on the site, and more chances to pick up stray PageRank.

Obviously Matt’s talk to Jason didn’t result in the Mahalo spam getting cleaned up, and in fact seems to have had the opposite effect. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

14 thoughts on “ Meet the New Spam, Worse than the Old Spam”

  1. I’ve been a fan of Jason Calacanis since I saw him speak at SESNY in ’08. I was always very impressed with his presence-of-mind as an investor and thought Mahalo was great. And I guess it was, when it was user generated content like he boasted just two years ago. Interesting how a little time changes things.

    I’m not interested in having an industry role model who takes short cuts to achieve their goals when they’ve always talked about being ethical. Sorry Jason.

  2. Oh the irony:

    “Please everyone report, report, report. Report every bit of the useless spam. We have to be vigilant in reporting this as we do not want Mahalo to be a haven for spammers.

    We want to make things difficult and very annoying for those who would want to SPAM our website.
    The best way to do this is to flood the reports of everything that remotely looks like spam. ”

  3. If Matt Cutts has anything resembling a spine he will slap a penalty on Mahalo. But he’s probably afraid of the PR backlash – Calacanis is after all very good at PR – so probably nothing will happen.

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