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How long has Mahalo been using keyword domains like this? (google.com)
88 points by kbrower on June 15, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments

Contrary to what these initial comments are suggesting, Mahalo isn't duplicating content across all of these sites. These sites are each targeted at specific verticals, and (are intended to) only have questions and answers related to that vertical. It's a strategy that worked for Calacanis at Weblogs, Inc. (to a degree--eventually a lot of superniche blogs were shuttered or consolidated into the higher-profile brands) and I suspect it'll work again.

As for Google's rankings, I don't think these sites are any worse off than the Stack Exchange sites, which all share the same basic design and markup and many of the same boilerplate About, etc. pages.

Is it great for users, i.e. people actually trying to find answers? Well, that's an open question. I think ultimately it is because someone looking for FarmVille answers (yes, Mahalo has such a site, and yes, an incredible number of people have FarmVille questions) is going to get more relevant results than they'll find on Mahalo Answers proper. If these sites didn't exist would they find better, or faster, answers to their questions? I think sometimes they would, sometimes they wouldn't. Generally answers on Mahalo Answers are higher-quality than, say, Yahoo! Answers, which I see showing up in the results for many of my Google searches.

I don't blame anyone for disliking the practice--it does have a bit of a smell--but I do think it's a good business decision for Calacanis et al.

(Disclosure: I used to work for Jason Calacanis at Weblogs, Inc. and Propeller (nee Netscape.com) and enjoyed the experience. I haven't talked to him in a couple years but I bet if I called him up he'd do me a solid. Oh, I was also an early Mahalo beta-tester and use Mahalo Answers once every couple of months.)

I think calling these these kinds of practices "Search Engine Optimisation" is a little perverse. "Search Engine Deception" would be a better term. This is precisely the sort of thing that makes SEO such as shady business nowadays. It might work for now, but it's still a hack based on the current implementation of search engines that will likely be punished later on.

Personally this kind of practice doesn't bother me, but if it bothers you then you can probably send Matt Cutts an email about it - his entire job role is to eliminate this kind of noise out of Google's rankings.

Matt Cutts is completely aware of everything Mahalo does, if from nothing else than the constant threads on HN.

Ain't that the truth! I've got 10 or so SEOs who watch everything we do and send complaint letters by the dozens to Matt.

Keeps us on our toes to an absurd level.

The question is, do you feel you deserve such exposure? How did you manage to earn it? Was it what you were hoping for?

I hope your search traffic is up, in spite of what third party metrics tools are showing ;)

I will give you this... nfl-answers.com was (almost) a great Hail Mary strategy ;)

If you want to obsess about me please continue... all your doing is making yourself look bad. It's silly to obsess to this level about one person. The Hacker News community is now looking at the account AaronWall as a spammer--way to go!

In terms of traffic we took a little hit when we removed the shorter pages, and we actually have a higher benchmark than anyone in the content space about what we index--and the search engines know this. We only rank stuff--on average--when it's 300 words or more. This means we have a much higher benchmark than About.com, Wikipedia and Google Knol.

we got this suggestion from you and it's actually concentrated our page rank to the high-quality, higher CPM pages.... the end result? When we removed the low quality pages our revenue grew 2.5x!!!

You are responsible for, literally, millions of dollars in revenue for Mahalo.... for that I think your tollish ways!

Sidenote: I've apologized to the SEO community a million times for saying SEO is BS. you're the one who won't get over it. Keep wasting everyone's time with your non-sense while I create more companies, invest in more companies and getting more stacks.

My life is unfairly epic, and your life is spent obsessing about that fact..... sad dude. really. The most attention and achievement you'll have in your sad little life is when you're throwing rocks at me. Sad.

As long as you feel important I suppose that is all that matters. Self-aggrandizing for the win.

The funny thing about your presumption is that you don't realize how much web traffic I control, or that I was able to grow a similar sized traffic stream without bilking investors & without looting third party content without permission or opt out & without cybersquatting.

You take the low road & I'll take the high one.

No matter how many times you use the word troll it won't change the facts. ;)

This is autoblogging. This won't work. Google will see the blog theme fingerprint and will either lessen the index or de-index. Also, the dupe content is another factor that gets you de-indexed.

Now if they used a generic, common theme, and different themes; and then if they used unique, synonymized content -- these things would perhaps get past the Google filter unless of course something triggers a manual review at Google and a human checks it.

A site has flags at Google (that's the theory) and if you throw enough flags, then it sometimes triggers an automatic de-index or PR lessening. In some cases, and again this is all theory, it triggers a manual review and they have a human review what's going on to see if they need to alert the core team on a search engine tweak.

This plumbing company seems to be getting away with it just fine. I really wish Google did a better job at smacking down this sort of thing.

What dupe content? If I go to starwarsanswers.com I see different questions than astonmartinanswers.com. If I open a SW question and change the domain to AM, I get redirected back to SW.

It's not autoblogging, they are niche communities no different than HN or forums or StackOverflow.

As they grow you'll see us invest more in their design and build them out.

I'm not certain this will become a huge business for us, but our Q&A platform is really helpful for niche communities and I'm excited to see how it works.

Most folks won't hang out at a Yahoo Answers or Mahalo Answers, but they would hang out at an iPad Answers site or a Toyota Answers site I think.

Time will tell.

It's lame, but what they are doing is not exactly auto-blogging. They are driving traffic (eventually) to Mahalo.

Actually, we're not trying to drive folks to Mahalo with these sites. We're actually happier if they stay on the vertical sites--which have higher CPMs.

where did you learn these details about how google's indexing algorithm works?

As a developer, I try to "get in the minds" of other developers sometimes. I try to think, "If I had to build this same system, and ensure it was tuned properly, how would I be building it?"

However, I interact monthly with other SEO guys and learn from their thoughts on what they see from the trenches with their content. They commonly tell me that they think that the Google search engine is not fully automated -- that flags are sometimes raised and low-cost staffers react to those flags when enough go off. From there, low-cost staffers filter out the false alarms and escalate to a core team for manual analysis. This makes the most sense. I mean, if you were Google, building the greatest SE on the planet, it makes sense to automate as much as possible, create tools to collect flags and let low-cost staffers check these flags and escalate or ignore issues, and then have a core team do manual reviews to find areas to improve in the SE code.

Jason sits here and tries to claim there is nothing wrong with registering trademarks in domains when about a month ago, Mahalo lost a domain to StateFarm because Mahalo had violated their trademark.


So Jason, did you not know you had lost a domain or are you flat out lying about your knowledge of how trademarks and domains work?

At some point, doesn't a person who consistently ends up on the wrong side of the truth end up losing the benefit of the doubt?

My guess is Jason was hoping nobody would find that. ;)

Is there actually a benefit from doing this for Mahalo? Wouldn't google just recognize that their content is duped all over the place?

mahalo seems to be reasonably smart with their SEO trickery. i'd guess that they tested it and found benefits.

No no, you have it all wrong. Jason said he doesn't know anything about SEO and just happens to accidentally stumble on all the techniques (then apologizes but doesn't stop using them).

Keyword domains are something that SEO people have been using for a long time. It isn't really against terms of service, especially not if you actually have different content on each domain. Basically, you can boost your site's ranking by setting up numerous smaller sites that funnel traffic and Google PR to your site.

It works for some, but isn't my chosen technique for getting quality web traffic.

Can someone explain what exactly this is and why it is bad? I am not very well-versed in the Google-fu.

Mahalo registered hundreds of domain names that are actual search queries to improve their search ranking. For example, when Mahalo discovered that people searched for "Car Repair" enough times, Mahalo registered "CarRepair.com" and ended up the first result in google search from that point onward, because google regards the domains that match the query very highly.

Then they repeated this for hundreds of other queries.

This is considered bad form because these shell websites are all indistinguishable in terms of substance, and duplicate content already offered by the main site.

This may be a naive view, but using the terms in the domain name as an attribute in measuring relevance (and rank) seems to have outlived its usefulness.

I was also under the impression that it's become less favourable within Google.

Some updates for folks on SEO:

1. Domain names are not counted toward SEO. Links and quality content are what drives SEO. That is what you should really focus on.

2. Having more than one domain name doesn't help SEO--especially if they are all on the same group of servers. Google knows when one person owns all the same domain names and when they are all on the same servers. If you wanted to try and fool google you might be able to have 500 servers in 500 different locations running 500 different software profiles, etc. However, the amount of time to do that is greater than just making good content.

3. Putting keyword in a domain just makes it easier to remember. Which is worthwhile...

Jason - I think the data would beg to differ. Correlation of exact match domains and even of domains that simply include the keywords with high rankings on both Google and Bing are quite pronounced - http://www.seomoz.org/blog/google-vs-bing-correlation-analys... - particularly for algorithms that supposedly contain 200+ ranking elements.

I agree with Aaron that a keyword-rich domain can be a great asset and benefit from an SEO perspective, but I find it hard to believe that you approved/initiated this strategy without some knowledge of the SEO benefits and intention to reap the rewards. Either way, glad to see you helping to spread the concepts and success SEO can bring rather than bash it - that's certainly a welcome change :-)

I don't have any type of legal background, so don't feel qualified to speak to the legalities of employing trademarks in domain names.

What? domain names ARE counted toward SEO. I just ranked a month old site to the first page for "X service" where X is a fairly competitive keywords (~50k searches globally)

A friend of mine ranked "X tickets" to #5 in the UK, where X is a very competitive keyword (millions)

My site actually has content, ~80 pages, while his is just a template.

based on the age of my random selection of those domain names, they started doing it early this year.

There are two things going on here.

1. Generating domains that match exact search terms is very common and can be quite effective. This is not 'bad' in google ethics - think of how there is no search bar in chrome - when i type 'hacker news' into chrome, hackernews.com is #3; the line between a search and almost typing in an exact domain name makes these domains valuable, and uneducated users who don't know the difference between a search and a domain mean this won't change anytime soon.

2. Mahalo could be auto-generating content that should be penalized because it is duplicate or spammy. This is, within the terms of the googleverse, 'bad' and can be penalized. However it's not clear that all of those sites are exactly the same (i didn't click through each one) - they may be different enough but just share a similar URL structure, which if the content is different, is not really an issue.

So not only are they content thieves, they are also cybersquatters with names like:

And that's just the first 2 pages of results.

Buying great domain names is just a great/smart/effective strategy.

But cybersquatting isn't something where a person is operating in the gray area of the terms of service, it is something which is clearly illegal.

Now that is something you might expect some low end affiliate to do, or maybe an innocent technique by a person ignorant to what they are doing (if they are doing it on just 1 name)...but to raise venture capital and then deploy it on illegal marketing strategies is a bit extreme.

It would have been nearly as helpful/beneficial to do something like footballquestions.com (instead of nfl-questions.com), and it wouldn't have been illegal.

The curious question is why take VC money if you want to take the low road? Do the investors realize the latent risk embedded in this activity?

Jason claimed that the Youtube founders should have handed their sales money to the original content creators. I wonder if he thinks the same way about money made from JASON cybersquatting on someone else's brand?

And I would love to here Jason explain how/why he feels the 2 are in any way different from each other.

Actually Aaron, you can use a domain name with a brand in it.... take a look at wipo and you'll see dozens of examples of this. I've posted one below.

That being said, if someone had a problem with our Toyota Answers site or iPad Answers site we would discuss it with them.

Not sure that you understand what the term Cybersquatting means. Cybersquatting is when you sit on a domain name that is the same as someone's brandname and you try to sell it back to them.

What we are doing is creating a forum for the public to discuss a product or service. We also take the time to do a popup to keep people from being confused.

There are many internet companies that do this including the publicly traded Internet Brands which runs sites like corvetteforum.com.

Here's the Wipo link for you to get caught up...

best jcal

http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/html/2000/d2000... Based on the foregoing discussion, the Panel denies the Complaint under the Policy 4 (i) and the Rules 15. Complainant, Lockheed Martin Corporation, failed to show that the disputed domain names were confusingly similar to its trademarks. Therefore, the Panel orders that the disputed domain names <lockheedsucks.com> and <lockheedmartinsucks.com> remain registered in the name of the Respondent, Dan Parisi.

I recently googled ugg boots and found that the lawyers for UGG told Google to de-index some sites that had ugg in the domain name. That's uncool.

I knew a guy who had "timex" somewhere in his domain name and the lawyers for Timex did a cease-and-desist on him.

These trademark and IP lawyers are crossing the line because they know they can go after small-time operators who can't afford the legal team to fight them. And then that sets a legal precedent of a long series of wins that gives trademark and IP lawyers more ammo to use on even more cases, like a snowball.

Also Aaron, I would read this article... :-) http://www.seobook.com/how-choose-great-domain-names

If you would have read that article (and followed the advice) you wouldn't have registered names like nfl-anwsers.com ;)

i had to look:


how timely is this google webmaster video?


the key part about domains google seizes starts at 2:57

Great citation.

Years ago I registered AdWordsBlog.com and AdSenseBlog.com & then pinged a Google engineer so they could transfer them in. Its the polite thing to do. I did the same thing with SethGodin.net. If you see some stuff like that out there then why not try to help people out who have spent millions of Dollars building up their brands.

The opposite of the above, to register the domain names & then to try to cash in on someone else's branding efforts is a lower rung strategy.

For a person like Jason to cybersquat, and then compare his auto-generated for profit websites to sucks sites protected by free speech laws...it really doesn't sit very well.

I think you're once again trying to spam Hacker News with your own personal vendetta against me Aaron.

Most brands love when folks make fan sites or communities.

You're being intellectually dishonest here, using the term squatting when in fact that's not what we're doing. Take a look at Internet Brands and their forums for automotive:


They provide independent forums, with trademarks in the domains, for almost every car brand. These forums are high-quality and valuable.

If someone wants to make CalacanisSucks.com, CalacanisTalk.com and CalacanisQuestions.com I'm fine with it. Go ahead... talk about me all day long.

I mean, you're doing that anyone Aaron.

Seriously, you are a link baiting machine Aaron. However, don't you think it's a little sad that the most attention you've ever gotten in your life is when you're attacking me.

The folks on HackerNews are sick of Calacanis-Baiting... give it a rest please. I hate seeing my name on HackerNews.... in fact, can someone create a Chrome Extension that removes all posts that are by aaronwall and mention mahalo/calacanis?


I can't speak for anyone else, but if you took "The folks on HackerNews are sick of Calacanis-Baiting" and removed "-Baiting" from the end that would be pretty accurate.

Disclaimer: I worked for Mahalo last year.

You guys are over estimating the value of the domain names. They is a reason they were able to mass register these domains for just the base registration fee and not have to haggle with any private owners for a transfer. ____ answers is not a popular search query. I doubt any of domains are queries that generate more tha 500 searches a month. These domains have no value unless niche communities form around them and long tail content is generated as a result.

If your domain is costing you $10/year or less, and your content is a one-off, automated or crowdsourced, you only need a few cents/day to cover costs or edge into a tiny profit.

If you rank top for that keyword, 70% or so may click through. Most ads will pay at least a couple of cents, but could be higher. (I have a couple of static, set-and-forget sites where the domain registration for the year is paid by the first few ad clicks to arrive.)

When you have 500 searches/month plus some longer tail stuff, it will do better than many suspect.

In my experience, the 'ideas' suffix is also underrated (less competition for domains, decent niche to tackle) as incoming traffic is seeking a result and will often click an ad to get that.

That's correct. These will either grow or fail based on their ability to build a community of passionate users.

that's pretty scummy

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