August 20, 2007

Death Of SEO As A Business Model - Technorati,, Mahalo ...

Rick Skrenta - "Some thoughts on Mahalo"

At this point though I'm thinking SEO has gotta be dead as a startup business model. It was kind of unknown stuff in 2003 but now the cat's out of the bag. It seems like the last attempt of web 2.0 sites that aren't able to get social adoption is to start flooding the Google index with tag landing page spam or a crappy template page for every restaurant in the country.

That parallels some of my own thoughts, e.g. in observing the downward-spiral of blog-search site Technorati (it's a cautionary tale - all that sucking-up to A-listers and feeding the egos of the BigHeads, yet Google just rolls in and grabs the niche of searching blogs).

The SEO business model is a huge crapshoot. Wikipedia's success in fact relies heavily on its having hit the Google algorithm jackpot, which is a very under-remarked aspect (yes, it's obvious it ranks at the top, but the various implications don't get out into the policy world of high-status pundits writing about how wonderful it is to have all the little people working for free, and how we can build a new society on the backs of "volunteerism"). SEOishly, It's not really an encyclopedia so much as a link/traffic-factory.

But as with all lotteries, there can only be a few winners, and everyone else loses - e.g. recently, getting Google-demoted. First you have to win, then keep the prize!

It's all definitely not something worth chasing, at least if you don't have a lot of VC money to burn.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in AOTechnorati100 | on August 20, 2007 11:16 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Hmmm, bit of a case in point for any of the 100s of alternative search engines out there really...

There are *plenty* of sites trying to do both social and SEO. It's interesting that one that *didn't* take that rout (Facebook) looks like it's going to be the big winner.

Posted by: Seth Wagoner at August 21, 2007 03:19 AM

I had to look up (in Google) the meaning of SEO. It appears to be "Search Engine Optimization".

Consider that my voluntary contribution to your blog to increase its information content. :-)


Posted by: Fred Brehm at August 21, 2007 07:09 AM

Do you think Google will ever demote Wikipedia?

Posted by: anon at August 21, 2007 11:52 AM

I obviously agree 100% that you should not build your business on SEO. If you happen to rank for some pages because you have great content that's a great bonus, however you have to build a service that someone will take the time to tell their friend about.

Today Mahalo silently passed 10,000 SERPs. We thought this would take until the end of the year, but the Mahalo Greenhouse has taken off so quickly that we reached the "beta" goal four months early. Now we're off to the next goal of 20,000 pages. Who knows how quickly we'll get there, but I have to say in week 11 we're feeling really great about our progress.

Many folks are passing pages on to their loved ones... we see the stats every day from the email send form or Mahalo follow downloads. We even see it in the number of folks typing "mahalo" into a search engine then coming to our site.

We are 5% of the way into the Mahalo project, and I think we've learned a lot and already created the best search results on the planet for the pages we do have. The only questions left for me are:

a) how many pages should we do
b) how should we evolve those pages
c) how often should we update those pages

It's clear that the service changed radically from a user perspective when we moved from 2,500 to 4,000 and now to 10,000 pages (representing 20x that in terms of searches serviced). When we double the number of pages again I think that many folks will be able to consider starting at Mahalo and falling back to machine search.... and we only really need 1% of the folks to do that to create an AMAZING business.

Anyway, I thought Rich had some excellent points in the piece. I agree with him on the updating being a large issue, but I don't think the SEO issue is really that important in relation to Mahalo since we are not building our business based on that.

We're going to be at this for the next five years AT LEAST, and we're learning A LOT every day about what users want.... and one things is very clear: they want search to get better.

Posted by: Jason at August 21, 2007 07:26 PM

Having given very little thought to the business side of things, but wanting to feel halfway as smart as Rich, I thought this over.

I have a guess that people like to reduce problems to binary. The #2 search term on Mahalo is "How to Speak German." When I search this on el Goog, I see a neat listing of 10 links, and of 9 ads. And because the ones on the left are "machine" generated, maybe I cast my lot with the "human" (ad) generated at right.

When I search on Mahalo, I get this huge page and only three ad links. It's the "human" page, so maybe the mammalian brain sees this as *better* than the ad links, which look sorta machine generated. So the ads don't interest me as much.

Top 10,000 searches...

I see from Yahoo's Buzz page, searches on jazz legend Max Roach sot up by a factor of 11 this week. As Yogi Berra might have said (and still can), you only get so popular when you die. And yup, a search on Yahoo gives me the news that he died, as well as some ways to remember him (by buying his CD's from Amazon.)

Yet the Mahalo Greenhouse has other priorities. This week they put in some work in this week on an entry for Pro Football Hall of Famer Jack Lambert (elected 1974), and three-time Academy Award-winning supporting actor Walter Brennan (he last won in 1940). Oddly enough, both are in the Google Trends, due to some random spikes...

The scary thing for Mahalo (or anyone else relying on Google) is that Google knows your numbers. Now I understand why you've referred to this as "sharecropping."

I will NOT be writing a series called "The New Sharecroppers" ftr...

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at August 22, 2007 02:34 AM

SethW: Almost by definition, there can only be a few big winners, so almost any "me-too" site will lose.

Fred: Oops, sorry, thanks- it's a lot of work to remember to define all jargon. I'm aware of that and try to do it, but I slipped here.

anon: They should :-)

Jason: I'm "taking the 5th Amendment" in reply, since you're an A-lister.

Jon: "binary" is often the case since only the top few terms matter (to a good approximation).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at August 22, 2007 04:40 PM

I work in the SEO field and coincidentally was just thinking about this yesterday...whether or not SEO is dead that is. After reading through the comments and thinking about Mahalo, I'd say my initial thoughts were wrong. I first thought yes, it will be dead and probably sooner than later. After reading Calacanis's comment and taking another look at Mahalo, I realized it simply can't replace Google. I think Mahalo will be a great tool but that's exactly what Google is. They're both just tools to access information on the Web. Google has 8 billion pages from millions of people for me to look at all packaged in a user interface that I've become extremely comfortable with. Mahalo shows me information that one human thinks is relevant in a Hawaiian backdrop. Here's another example. I wasn't sure if proper grammar would have me use Calacanis' or Calacanis's in the sentence above. I did a search for both versions and the second (Calacanis's) returned a result from I could be wrong but I feel safe trusting their usage. My point is that Mahalo simply couldn't answer that question for me.

Posted by: Adam Moro at August 29, 2007 01:21 AM