Wow, this has the makings of a scandal all over it.
The long and short: Wordpress’s Matt Mullenweg has been caught as using his site to spam search engines, taking advantage of its high PageRank with AdSense baiting articles written by Hot Nacho.
The details: Because every WordPress blog links to WordPress by default (including my own), it has a huge PageRank of 8 out of 10. Hot Nacho pays freelancers to write short articles, and WordPress publishes them all here. The disclaimer at the bottom of the page reads:
Sponsored Articles on Credit, Health, Insurance, Home Business,The articles are completely useless, catering entirely to search engines, all with keywords that pay big bucks in AdSense. Waxy says there are almost 120,000 articles. Matt explains in this thread:
Home Buying and Web Hosting, Copyright © 2004-2005
The content in /articles is essentially advertising by a third party that we host for a flat fee. I’m not sure if we’re going to continue it much longer, but we’re committed to this month at least, it was basically an experiment. However around the beginning of Feburary donations were going down as expenses were ramping up, so it seemed like a good way to cover everything. The adsense on those pages is not ours and I have no idea what they get on it, we just get a flat fee. The money is used just like donations but more specifically it’s been going to the business/trademark expenses so it’s not entirely out of my pocket anymore.So, technically, its not even classified as spam, but a complicated advertising campaign. Matt is just trying to make money to support an excellent bit of software, and at least he isn’t doing it by bundling adware. Still, its spam, and dishonest. Google realizes that, and is in the process of removing the whole shebang.
It’s already starting to hit the fan. Bloggers are digging deep. Dave from Geeklife found a Hot Nacho ad offering to pay $1200 for 400 short (500 word) articles. Andre Torrez found that the site is using cloaking on the Wordpress homepage, hiding this:
<div style="text-indent: -9000px; overflow: hidden;"> <p>Sponsored <a href="/articles/articles.xml">Articles</a> on <a href="/articles/credit.htm">Credit</a>, <a href="/articles/health-care.htm">Health</a>, <a href="/articles/insurance.htm">Insurance</a>, <a href="/articles/home-business.htm">Home Business</a>, <a href="/articles/home-buying.htm">Home Buying</a> and <a href="/articles/web-hosting.htm">Web Hosting</a> </p> </div>
The -9000px indent makes it invisible to all but search spiders. Cloaking is a huge no-no for Google, and all reputable search engines. GoogleGuy points out in the comments that Hot Nacho is posting the same articles in multiple places, another no-no. David Jacobs says Wordpress users should change the powered by WordPress link to point to this article. Even Jason Kottke is talking about it. Yahoo’s Tim Mayer links to it. Oilman calls it “pretty freakin stupid”. Greg Yardley blames Google for not having the technology to catch this itself. Ian Landsman calls them “Lying, Cheating, Rotten, Bastards“. Priyadi Iman Nurcahyo says he’s “nofollow”ing all links to WordPress till the pages come down.
Others: SEO Roundtable, Lisa Jill, Jonas Luster (WordPress inc.’s first employee), hmm, Elliot Back, Chyetanya Kunte, Darren Rowse, Blogosphere News, Silicon Beat, Patrick Strang, Kingsley, Spamblogging.
You want irony? Its been reported recently by none other than the San Jose Mercury News that Matt is the number one “Matt” on Google because of all the WordPress blogs with a link to his site. Doesn’t seem quite as charming as it did a few days ago…