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Jason Calacanis may be one of the most recognizable internet entrepreneurs in the United States but that doesn't mean that is current startup, Mahalo, is above using questionable SEO tactics to boost its SERPs.

Mahalo is a human-edited web directory that some have criticized in the past as being nothing more than a link farm designed to take advantage of search engines. Which is ironic, given that Calacanis has in the past been critical of SEO.

While Mahalo's past behavior may have been debatable, SEOBook.com has discovered a new technique Mahalo is using that is, for lack of a better word, abusive.

Mahalo is employing a spammy blog widget in what is clearly an attempt to 'funnel' PageRank to Mahalo through popular blogs.

The popular technology blog, Hack a Day, for instance, features the widget, which contains 27 links to Mahalo pages using spammy anchor text. Here are some of them:

  • How to Make Your Computer Run Faster
  • How to Switch to Digital TV
  • How to Customize Your MySpace Profile
  • How to Use Handbrake
  • Street Fighter 4
  • Street Fighter 4 Achievements
  • Street Fighter 4 Alternate Costumes
  • Street Fighter 4 Characters
  • Street Fighter 4 DLC
  • Street Fighter 4 Gameplay Video
  • Street Fighter 4 Joystick

As SEOBook.com's Aaron Wall points out, the links do not use the nofollow attribute, are "repetitive and spammy" and are lacking in contextual relevance. He points to the Google guidelines which Mahalo's widget seems to clearly violate and goes on to write that Mahalo is also developing a blog network "that cross links to other Mahalo promoting blogs and exists for the purpose of flowing PageRank into high paying Mahalo pages."

In my opinion, the widget alone is damning evidence of a clear and concerted effort to manipulate SERPs and it is unbecoming of any legitimate website.

The question: will Google take action?

In the past, Wall has argued that Mahalo meets Google's internal criteria for 'spam' on the grounds that it provides no original content but obviously Google hasn't seen things the same way.

But Mahalo's spam widget clearly violates Google's public guidelines on link schemes and if Google fails to take action, legitimate operators and SEOs will have to wonder whether there's a double standard between black hats who break the rules and legitimate-looking companies with millions of dollars in VC funding, including from the same VC firm that financed Google, Sequoia Capital.

While I don't think there's a conspiracy here (even though some have suggested that Mahalo might have Google's favor because of the Sequoia connection), I do think it's important that Google treat all abuse the same, regardless of whether it's coming from a small-time black hat who hides in the shadows or a prominent internet entrepreneur with big name investors.

With little question about the nature of Mahalo's tactics, it's Google's credibility that's on the line here.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 February, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2378 more posts from this author

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Stu Bowker

Stu Bowker, Web Analyst at TUI Group

Oh the irony, the "How to SEO your website" link doesn't work on the Hack a Day site!

over 7 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Jason appears to be viewing this as attempts to bait him by the SEO community, and claims to be the greatest white hat SEO ever... gotta love the chutzpah: http://twitter.com/JasonCalacanis/status/1219400844

over 7 years ago

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Albert

Jason is a  putz and vermin.  He will do or say anythign in an attempt to justify his position.

over 7 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Why would anyone run this widget? Does Jason pay them to do it?

It's more like a con job than white hat...

Slowly burning the bridges of trust. On the other hand, Bill Gates did well in business terms, treading a similar road.

over 7 years ago

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Jason

I think I'm actually being link-baited by this whole thing.

We *own* HackADay and are simply cross promoting our best content in our sidebar/blogroll.

Weblogs, Inc., Gawker and millions of other blogs do this every single day. I've spoken with tons of folks in the SEO business and at search engines and not only are they ok with this, most folks consider it a best practice.

The search engines don't pass page rank from sidebars in any real way from what I'm told, and as such these are really just cross-promotion.

If you look at www.engadget.com and www.autoblog.com at the bottom you'll see the "WIN GRID" i created four or five years ago for cross promotion. The search engines looked at this when SEOs attacked me for it years ago and said "no problem!"

So, again, I know the SEO community has it in for me... but really this is a non-issue.

... if it is an issue someone from a search company can let me and the millions of blogs out there know and we can all stop!

aaron is just busting my chops and trying to link bait.... he's said that in his comments basically. he's trying to get me to do a blog post on why seo is great. 

maybe i should do it?!?!!?

Also, search traffic isn't even the fastest growing part of our business.... Mahalo answers is, and that's direct/email/twitter driven traffic. Have you guys checked itout yet/

all the best, jason

over 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

With all due respect, Jason, please explain how the following links represent your "best content":

  • Street Fighter 4
  • Street Fighter 4 Achievements
  • Street Fighter 4 Alternate Costumes
  • Street Fighter 4 Characters
  • Street Fighter 4 DLC
  • Street Fighter 4 Gameplay Video
  • Street Fighter 4 Joystick
  • Street Fighter 4 Moves List
  • Street Fighter 4 Release Date
  • Street Fighter 4 Review
  • Street Fighter 4 Screenshots
  • Street Fighter 4 Trailer
  • Street Fighter 4 Training Manual

This is no different than the type of nonsense you see on link farms.

You're being disingenous when you say that the grid on Engadget and Autoblog is anything like what you're doing for Mahalo.

Those actually highlight real articles on affiliated properties using the actual titles of those articles - regardless of whether or not those titles are filled with juicy keywords.

Search engines shouldn't have a problem with that.

What you're doing for Mahalo, however, is linking to pages that are valuable to Mahalo using anchor text that is designed to boost Mahalo's SERPs.

Finally, to get to the heart of whether or not this is abuse or not, perhaps you can explain how featuring 13 links for Street Fighter 4 is relevant or useful to your readers? I can't figure it out.

over 7 years ago

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Jason

The Street fighter stuff is AMAZNG! we have three folks buildout each game their walkthroughs and videos every time a new game comes out. These are some of our most popular pieces of content.

Look at them here:

http://www.mahalo.com/Category:Video_Game_Walkthroughs

http://www.youtube.com/user/MahaloVideoGames

all the best,

Jason

ps - have you checked out Mahalo Answers yet? if not send me your user name and i'll put five Mahalo dollars in your account to play with!

over 7 years ago

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Jerry Okorie

Nice to see examples like this outed. Maybe it's sour-grapes (would love to have Mahalo's traffic)...

My question is, what incentive (financial or otherwise) is there for someone to load the spam-widget onto their blog? Are all the external blogs owned by Calacanis himself?

over 7 years ago

Felix Adewoye

Felix Adewoye, search & e-marketing at mvgmedia

this is a very intersesting debate and raises more questions than answers. In my eyes it seems that divide between black hat and white hat seo are being blurred. I joked about this before but now we have a real live example. Now that you got my attention i will look at this more closely.

over 7 years ago

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Jeremy

Looks like seobook won its fight as Mahalo has hit the dirt hard after the Big Panda Update from google.

over 5 years ago

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