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Another look at some claims that Mr. Calacanis made concerning his "human powered search", and the increasingly odd defenses being given by the head of the Google web spam team for allowing his site to continue to prosper.
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Avatar Administrator
from dannysullivan 3161 Days ago #
Votes: 1

I got the impresssion Matt was saying showing that a site has lots of pages listed for a URL search isn't the same as saying it's actually ranking well for anything.

from mvandemar 3161 Days ago #
Votes: 1

Danny, I am not sure what you are saying. The reconsideration request that sites that have been penalized have to fill out make you promise that you removed all attempts at spamming and that you will never do it again. There is no clause stating "well, if the Google algo picked up on any of your spammy methods already you can just leave those in place, we'll ignore them". It is specifically geared towards making you understand that Google does not even want you to try spamming them.

Mahalo ranks all across the board. They have almost no merit based links, everything is either from scrapers, employees, or stuff like the link farm. Jason knows this. This is blatant disregard for Google's quality guidelines, and Google keeps giving them a get out of jail free card, and there really is no reason for them to do so.

I gave the details of the linkfarm, which is an attempt to gain more links through a "scheme", and Matt's reply was basically "I don't care if Mahalo is trying to spam, you cannot prove that it is working". That simply does not make sense to me.

Want to see some rankings? They are easy enough to find:

4th one down is one of those sites, Want proof that it is primarily used for spamming? Why else would you create a specific subtopic site, but then embed all of the content links in the questions themselves, including links that are highly relevant to that specific subtopic, and point them all back to the mother site instead of spreading the love around the new, niche site?

Avatar Administrator
from dannysullivan 3161 Days ago #
Votes: 2

So your latest article started out saying:

Last Thursday, in response to Matt Cutts stating that he needed more than “arbitrary inurl searches” to sway him

I saw some of that Twitter exchange between you both, and what I recalled was Matt seemed to be focusing on the keyword-rich, Mahalo-owned domains and how they're not ranking:

@mvandemar that doesn't change my point. Plenty of things may show up in Google's search result, yet not affect ranking with forward links.

@mvandemar also, U should re-examine the assumption that these domains rank fine. Check how much traffic the "starwars question" site gets.

That's what I meant when I posted here that he was saying just because these domains have pages in Google, that doesn't mean they're ranking. I got the impression he was saying they're not doing well at all.

In fact, when I look at this a bit myself after reading your post last week, I had problems finding some of exact pages from some of these sites in Google at all. Not only did they not rank for targeted terms, but they weren't even showing up listed at all!

Coming into your articles from afar, there seems to be three things happening here.

  • Is Mahalo filling Google with junky content from these keyword-based domains?
  • Are these keyword-based domains simply link farms designed to help Mahalo itself?
  • Is Mahalo filling Google with junky content from its own domain?
  • You're mixing a number of things altogether, which makes it easy for Matt, if you believe he's dodging the biggest issue (#3) to focus instead on #1.

    But even if he's not dodging, it's a lot to digest. I mean, when I read it, I was most fascinated (horrified?) by the keyword-rich domains. When you asked me on Twitter what I thought about all this, that was my immediate reaction:

    @mvandemar feels like SEO play & lack of mahalo branding on pages rubs me wrong way

    I looked at a site like, just one of these many keyword-based domains that Mahalo runs, but I saw no Mahalo branding. Just lots and lots of Q&A fodder designed, as best I can tell, for a shotgun approach to SEO. Shove a lot of content out there and hope you pick up some long-tail traffic.

    Now if some notable SEO had done this, these pages probably would have been profiled from the start and never allowed to rank. If Jason does it, well ... actually, that seems to be the case. As I said, I searched for a number of these pages, and they just didn't seem to rank.

    So in terms of #1, I'd say sure, Mahalo doesn't seem to be adding that much value to Google with these domains, and Google seems to be reacting by not giving pages within them much visibility. If Google really felt there was a violation, then the pages would be completely banned. But I haven't looked deep enough to decide if these domains are a content violation.

    After I responded about that, you came back and asked about the link farm aspect. I really hadn't thought about that much. Like I said:

    @mvandemar feels more shotgun 4 long tail traffic than link play. but odd when "wild mint" link leads to NO content

    Sure, these pages do seem to link back Mahalo a lot. Sometimes they're really stupid links, too, like this page that links to Mahalo with the words "wild mint" in the link. The page it links to isn't a page but instead search results for those words on Mahalo, topped by this great notice:

    This page has not been created yet, would you like to build it?

    Well thanks, Mahalo, for linking people from your unbranded keyword fodder to a page of nothingness over at Mahalo itself. Great user experience. Pat on that back to you.

    Thing is, if the pages from those keyword-based domains aren't ranking, then the links themselves might not be passing along credit. So maybe a link farm, and may one that Google's spotted and dealt with. Dunno.

    That leaves #3. Doesn't Mahalo itself just have a lot of crap on it? And if so, why's it allowed to rank on Google when if some known SEO were to create it, Google would have slapped it to oblivion.

    Don't know. I've complained about this stuff in the past myself. It sure does feel like different rules for different people.

    What I do know is that if you want to pin Matt down on specifics to number three, then just stick with that. The keyword-based domains are fascinating, but you're probably putting out too much information especially with the URL-based results. It lets Matt come back with something like this:

    @mvandemar next time, I'd focus on whether the content was duplicate across multiple domains vs. unique on domain, e.g.

    And get off the hook.

    I think where you really battle Mahalo is when you show the pages ranking for important terms with really poor content. I loved this post from Aaron Wall, because with one screenshot, he showed how little content Mahalo pages have.

    But still, he wasn't showing the pages ranking for anything. That's what you want. You want to show some important searches where Mahalo is ranking with poor content. Then the question is simple. "Hey Google, why's this better than millions of other pages on the web?" That's harder for Matt to dodge.

    Personaly, I supect that Mahalo isn't doing anywhere near as well as it did in the past on Google. My guess is that it's picking up long tail traffic for things where there really isn't that much more. It's also why I personally don't get that worried about it. Yep, Jason's said plenty of things that annoyed SEOs. Yes, it's ironic that in the end, he's doing an SEO play. Yes, it's annoying to outright unfair that he seems to get more leeway than if someone like Aaron Wall or you or Michael Gray had setup Mahalo. But he's not really appearing to be that rewarded, in the end. For that matter, Seth Godin had some unflattering things to say about SEOs, but Squidoo no longer seems to be doing so hot in the search results.

    Avatar Administrator
    from dannysullivan 3161 Days ago #
    Votes: 2

    Oh, and I do see the example of one of these domains ranking for "how do I sotp following a person on twitter." that's a good one. I mean, there is the answer there, but man, do you have to fight to find it.

    In contrast, gets you there more easily. Absurd is that Twitter's own help page doesn't rank tops. But also notice that lots of Q&A sites are showing up. Yahoo Answers is there (which is so-so), Cha-Cha is weak. And then you've got some off-topic matches, too. Things that will make me stop following you and so on.

    To me, that unbranded Mahalo page doing better because Google's results are simple so poor for this result. But then again, yeah, after all the pages Google could list, that unbranded site should be doing THAT well?

    from mvandemar 3161 Days ago #
    Votes: 1

    There is actually some speculation going on that the reason Matt hasn't banned or penalized is because he can't. Jason broke his NDA with Google today and announced that he one of their "special" AdSense publishers, and that normal rules don't apply to him. Based on the whole "AdSense Premium Publishers get special treatment" thing Matt might not only be powerless to ban Mahalo, but also not allowed to discuss why he cannot ban them. If true that of course would leave him in an awkward position, since to the rest of the world is is quite obvious that Jason is spamming and that Mahalo does not deserve to be listed in the results for most of the queries it ranks for.

    I do know that in today's post what I addressed was something that Matt has stated publicly he talked with Jason about, and told Jason that if he didn't clean it up Google might actually take action against Mahalo... and here Jason has gone and done the same thing again (ie. thousands of automated empty fluff pages injected into the site). I have no idea how Matt will respond to this one.

    You're right though, there is a ton of information to process. To me the fact that the mini sites were all crappy content tied directly in to the linkfarm aspect... if they were all quality sites then it would be much harder to say that they were nothing more than wrappers for links. My post last week didn't have anything to do with them ranking... it had to do with the links and the number of domains out there holding them. It was Jill and others who started tossing that extra element in.

    As for the "Does Mahalo even rank" question, search for [mcdonalds coupons], and they are number 1. Only 3 sentences on the page have anything to do with McDonald's coupons, really, with 2 of them being a) check the Sunday paper and b) look in your mailbox. I don't know if it is an "important" query, but search for [alpine spaniel] and Mahalo comes up #6. That page is nothing more than a scrape of Wikipedia. They are still top 10 for [need for speed walkthrough], and that is a page that doesn't even have any spiderable content.

    Avatar Administrator
    from dannysullivan 3161 Days ago #
    Votes: 1

    I guess I'd long assumed that Jason wasn't a self-serve AdSense publisher and was able to perhaps doing unit positioning in a way that Google wouldn't allow mere mortals to do.

    But that's AdSense. That's not web search, not search quality, not search spam. That's a completely different department than can do whatever it wants, ads regardless. Of course, you might not believe that. Not everyone does. But I do.

    Seriously, if you're going to let your ad relationships dictate who gets banned or not, is it Mahalo that you're going to waste your reputation on? I just don't see that.

    On "mcdonalds coupons," I see that as a suggested query when I start typing, so sure, it has some importance. Yep, the three sentences of tips mixed with all the other garbage (a 1984 McDonald's commercial, really?) ought to make Google embarrassed it picks this as number one out of 800,000 matches. And one of the tips, to friend McDonald's on Facebook, doesn't even link to the McDonald's account there. That's absurd.

    Of course, most of the other sites that Google lists for that search seem just as bad, either in not helping. This one:

    Says do Facebook as well. And here:

    could they link over to any more? It's doing the same thing you don't like Mahalo doing with its keyword domains -- not that this excuses Mahalo. It just points out how cruddy Google's awesome relevancy really isn't. OK, so the links from that page don't boost the actual page that ranks top from ezine for that query. But why on earth is that page ranking at all? Which seems to link to one of those "reward sites" that makes me want to run screaming "Is this a scam?"

    from mvandemar 3159 Days ago #
    Votes: 0

    I am guessing that the listing won't have much longevity, but just for the record looks like they are also a AdSense Premium publisher (ie. 4 AdSense blocks per page, posted alongside images, other contextual ads allowed on the same pages as AdSense).

    As for the other listings, sure, there is plenty of non-deserving stuff that ranks, but none of it as consistently, as broad spectrum, nor as high profile as Mahalo. They are like the Spammers Spammer, touching on a wide variety of industries and market... and they have Matt Cutts defending not banning them.

    I myself don't fully buy that being an AdSense Premium publisher alone is what makes them immune to banning, but it can't hurt. You have to have an assload of traffic and a ton of clicks to get invited to be a Premium publisher... Jaosn boasted at one point that they were getting 15M uniques and 1M clicks a month:

    Danny, do you have any thoughts on why such a crappy site would be viewed by Google to be so non-ban worthy, in light of all of the spammy things that they do, if it's not the AdSense angle?

    from MattCutts 3159 Days ago #
    Votes: 2

    "There is actually some speculation going on that the reason Matt hasn't banned or penalized is because he can't. ... Based on the whole "AdSense Premium Publishers get special treatment" thing Matt might not only be powerless to ban Mahalo, but also not allowed to discuss why he cannot ban them."

    Oh, come on. Statements like this make me less and less likely to respond to you in the future, Michael. You're doing your case a disservice saying stuff like that. Has Google taken action on Mahalo in the past? Yes, we have. Will we take action on Mahalo in the future? We will, if it's appropriate. As Danny mentioned, showing an arbitrary inurl: query doesn't show that those domains are having an impact. And indeed, these domains aren't getting a lot of search traffic on Google--hardly any, in fact. Neither are they helping Mahalo. If Jason Calacanis wants to waste his time making domains and links that our algorithmic system handle perfectly well, that doesn't bother me. But it's false to imply that Mahalo gets any kind of super-secret pass when we have taken action on Mahalo before, and I'm happy to do it again if it's appropriate.

    from mvandemar 3159 Days ago #
    Votes: 0

    Just so you know, I wasn't the one that started that speculation, although it is a little compelling. I would personally think that Premium publishers would be held to a higher standard, and not automatically be given looser rules... like stricter adherence to the Google Webmaster Guidelines, for instance. I know that's not your arena, but if you agree maybe you could pass that on as a suggestion.

    Also, I am not sure if you knew this or not but the post in this Sphinn thread doesn't actually have to do with any inurl: searches, or those extra domains even. Totally separate issue. It has to do with Jason deciding to add more autogenerated pages, not noindexed, not blocked by robots.txt, that you supposedly warned him about in the past (and that he supposedly made massive changes due to that warning). Did you happen to read this one? Curious what your take on it is if so.

    And, as always, thank you for giving us feedback Matt.

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