Blogger gaming search engines, from the inside out

The blogging community has been under heat for its favorable position in search results. The talk has been to segregate blogs from other results, and some search engines have already taken this approach. Bloggers have cried foul, saying such a practice will kill their traffic. All the while, the major search engines have huddled together, promoting initiatives such as rel=”no follow” in hopes to stem the tide of comment and trackback spam, while the bloggers push back, saying the search engines should fix their own problems.

Each side has its valid points. Unfortunately, the latest “scam” involving them all is going to leave black eyes on all parties, and I suspect the little guys (the bloggers, that is), are going to take the brunt of the blame if mainstream journalists have their way with the spin.

Yes, I am talking about the WordPress “scandal.”

The big news in the blogging world over the last day is the story of WordPress, and how its owner, Matt Mullenweg hosted thousands of pages that contained hidden high value keywords. WordPress.org is the home to the popular open source blogging software; none of this is going to bode well for its users once the word gets outside the online community.

The gaming method used CSS directives that placed these keywords out of site of viewers, but within the realm available to search engine bots. The result is obvious. The more popular the keyword used, the better the search engine rankings for that page. In addition, although the hidden keywords may have little to do with the viewable content, their inclusion results in high paying ads from contextually sensitive providers such as Google’s Adsense program.

Mullenweg cooked this up in conjunction with Hot Nacho, another upstart that develops software to create such keyword results. Hot Nacho’s products are specifically marketed as content generators which start with keywords, and work their way out, as well as distribution mechanisms for said content. The claim is that the output outperforms traditionally developed content by margins as wide as 400-500%.

As The Register noted in Blog star ‘fesses up to payola spam scam, could Tim Berners-Lee have ever imagined this type of money chasing would happen?

Jonas Luster, a WordPress user and self-designated organizer of a foundation whose purpose was to keep WordPress development alive and well, was quick to distance the user community from the actions of the home page. Catch all of Jonas’s comments, as well as eWeek’s view of the whole issue in WordPress Under Fire for Search-Engine Spamming.

Once the mainsteam press gets a hold of this, expect a whole lot of blog FUD. And we will likely see a few tangible sufferers from this escapade:

1) WordPress.org loses its Adsense account, and any chance for contextual advertising deals down the road (if I was buying Adwords and my ad showed up at WordPress, I would be screaming bloody murder);

2) WordPress’s page rankings are going to fall faster than the NASDAQ circa 2001; and

3) the WordPress user community may lose ongoing support as a result of 1 and 2.

Jonas Luster said he hopes Mullenweg has learned his lesson after this “mistake.” Stay tuned, as I think Matt’s vacation has now turned into a living hell.

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Blogger gaming search engines, from the inside out

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