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Mahalo Traffic Growth Vulnerable To Google Penalty

A couple of weeks ago, Heather Hopkins at Hitwise noted that the human-powered Mahalo search engine has been showing a very strong curve of increasing traffic:

Mahalo Search Referral Traffic
(click to enlarge)

They also noted that 76% of this traffic comes in as referrals from other search engines.

This is slightly ironic, since Jason Calacanis, founder of Mahalo, has historically been very critical of the worth of search engine optimization. I’m not the only one who sees the irony in this, since Allen Stern also noted it, saying “Mahalo is an SEO Play“. As Allen notes, if Mahalo didn’t want this traffic it would be easy for them to block the spiders thru their robots.txt file.

I’ll go further: it appears to me that Mahalo was built with optimization in mind from the outset, since it was built with a clear navigation structure and non-query-stringed, keyworded links — something that rarely occurs without site designers intentionally desiring to bring in search spiders.

The unfortunate side of this is that Mahalo appears very vulnerable to me now, since they’ve designed themselves in direct opposition to Google’s Webmaster guidelines. Mahalo has marketed themselves as “a human powered search engine”, and Google’s guidelines state that they don’t want to be indexing search results pages:

“Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don’t add much value for users coming from search engines.”

I’ve seen Google drop search results pages from large sites due to this very thing before, and Mahalo is now prone to receive this same treatment. It’s a bit sad in a way, because startups like this need traffic to be successful, and Mahalo’s recent traffic growth is in danger of getting completely reversed if Google now chooses to apply their editorial controls as they have done with others.

Mahalo appears to have around 145,000 pages indexed in Google at the moment, and I’d say they are in danger of losing most of that indexation.

Of course, Google’s definition of what constitutes “search results pages” may be a bit semantic at times. There are many catalogs, guides and directory sites which expose their “search results pages” for indexing, and Google appears to accept those as good quality content sites.

It’s not always clear what definition Google is using for “search results pages”. It may be that they’re wanting to reduce/prevent the indexing of “search results pages” which are merely other indices of webpage links under the concept that Google SERPs are already a sort of meta-content, and indexing other similar meta-content is of fairly low value to endusers. In this case, Mahalo’s traffic certainly is endangered, regardless of the fact that their results pages are human-generated as opposed to the more traditional, algorithmically-generated variety. A rose is a rose and search results are search results.

Jason might want to bite the bullet and consult with some SEO experts now to get recommendations on how to offset the risk of losing his newly-found traffic. He’s one SEO misstep away from taking a bump on the nose.

4 comments for Mahalo Traffic Growth Vulnerable To Google Penalty »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    We’re actually become more and more of a content company as you can see from many of the pages we’ve been building in the How To, video games, and news space.

    As I’ve said from the start, we’re not really a search “engine” since there is no engine other than people making content. We’re really a hybrid of Wikipedia, About.com, and DMOZ.

    I’ve saying over and over again we’re a content company… folks don’t seem to want to print that. :)

    Also, we’re sort of figuring it all out. Most folks don’t search on Mahalo right now… 85% of folks who come to the home page go right to the directory.

    So, that tells me our future is probably more as a Wikipedia/DMOZ 2.0… however, I learned long ago not to define things too much.

    Also, our largest growth is coming from our social network, Mahalo Social. Direct visits have grown 4x since we introduced it and the number of links suggested has grown 10-12x!

    all the best,

    jason

    Comment by Jason — 1/24/2008 @ 3:49 pm


  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    thanks for the link – great article – wow – so mahalo could be penalized – then what – maybe a puppies video network? :)

    Comment by allen — 1/24/2008 @ 5:13 pm


  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    Jason, probably folx “don’t want to print” that you’re a content company, because they’ve been confused by your own marketing. Your homepage title tag says “Mahalo: Human-powered Search” and the footer says “What is Mahalo? Mahalo is the world’s first human-powered search engine…”.

    So, you have the power to reposition yourself in the market.

    I know what you’re saying, though, and I agree it’s a bit of a semantics game on my part to suggest that Google might de-index pages since they don’t wish to crawl/display search results pages. Though, this is also sort of intended to push the question back towards Google as to what they define as acceptable “search results pages” to index versus what they don’t want. Currently, it’s not all that terribly clear, at least through reading their guidelines, and I think they should make it much more precise.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by Chris Silver Smith — 1/25/2008 @ 10:44 am


  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    Chris,

    I think the issue is that our pages are built by humans and they are over 50% original content.

    This is much different than some automated way of creating tens of thousands of pages a day to pollute the index.

    We spend considerable time and effort (read:money) building our pages by hand.

    I think that is the key difference some folks are not getting.

    In terms of marketing you’re correct that it’s part my fault because Mahalo is very hard to describe.

    Do some folks use it like a search engine? Yes.

    Is it technically a search engine? Clearly not since there is no “engine.”

    Is it a directory like DMOZ? Well, it has a category system, however we don’t allow everyone into each page and we hand writes tons of content.

    So, it’s confusing for me to… we’re in beta and building out the product.

    Part of the issue is that folks in the technology space are rigid at times in wanting to peg a site as something… it HAS to be a blog or it has to be a social news site… or a wiki…. or a directory… or a… you get the idea.

    The fact is we are going to be like 5-10 different things put together. We’re have How to articles, wikipedia like information, and blog style information.

    best,

    Jason

    Comment by Jason — 1/25/2008 @ 3:58 pm


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