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?
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:
336 pages indexed there. So, was the “cooking” topic on Mahalo.com not covered then…?
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:
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:
308 results. So, is Star Wars not handled on Mahalo.com then?
1,200 results, so obviously this isn’t an example of “better diversity” either. Similar results for their Oklahoma City site, oklahomacityanswers.com:
177 pages, and yet again, not new subject matter:
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:
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?”:
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”:
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:
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:
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.
80 thoughts on “Need Help Understanding The Latest Mahalo Spam?”
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?…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
I’m not playing anymore either
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”
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.
@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.
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”..
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.
“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.
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.
@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.
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?
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
My favorite example from the Calacanis spamfolio … his Canadian Pharmacy “community” 🙂
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!
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.
Mahalo is now copying pages straight from wiki:
@john – that has been going on for a while now:
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.
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.
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.
Great informative article. I really wonder how Mahalo continues to get away with this. Now copying pages straight from wikipedia??! What a joke!