Ask And Thou Shalt Receive

Nov 26th

If Google is smarter than humans, we must accept that it should be able to help us answer the difficult questions about life that are vital toward making humans reach their full potential, such that we may help computers become smarter, so that we may reach the singularity.

Sure some folks who took some funding are trying hard to build real communities around niches, but they are doing it all wrong.

The folks who are doing it right seem to have the answer to everything. Millions and millions of answers. The modern day Matthew Lesko of the search world.

 Aks from ebaumsworld + Matthew Lesko image from Popefauvexxiii  on Wikipedia + Google search result showing indexed Ask 'answer' pages.

Ask has long played the search arbitrage game, but they are stepping up their game.

Every authoritative site should have an answers subdomain.

Every site is an opportunity for more answers.

Why shut a site down, when you can just throw up some scraped & autogenerated pages and wrap them in a Google ad feed that pays out over 80%?

Even if you have redirected a site as a defunct relic for a decade, once you have your auto-generated content in place you can simply throw the domain in the hopper and generate a few million pages.

Why did Ask fold their search engine & focus on Q & A? They claim the following:

"The development of search as a technology has become commoditized. To continue to invest our own resources to do web search doesn't make sense because that development is expensive and doesn't give you a differentiated product," Ask President Doug Leeds said by telephone.

My contention is that their is no value spending the engineering resources to fight auto-generated spam if Google is paying you to create it. At some point one stack of money becomes much larger than the other.

Then again, speaking of differentiation, I wonder if Doug Leeds would care to comment on if answers content "has been commoditized" at all by them skirting around the intent of fair use laws (much like Youtube did to video content). Are they offering a "differentiated" service by turning tons of their sites into giant answer farms?

Ultimately this is much like Mahalo, but on a grand scale. At least they are not pointing expired redirects into their site (like eHow did) but if this trend continues look for thin answer sites wrapped in AdSense to become the equivalent of the auto-generated affiliate feed powered website of years gone by. The model is infinitely more scalable than content mills since the companies doing it don't actually have content costs: throw a keyword list in the hopper, send your scrapers out to "add value" & watch the money come in. Wherever something is working simply throw more related keywords in the hopper.

The lack of cost to the model means you can build thousands of pages around misspellings and yet still have it be profitable...the cost of creating each page is under a cent.

Who funds the creation of all this garbage? Google, via their AdSense program. It's a bit of Southern Hospitality from Google, if you will.

Own a forum website or answers website & are sick of seeing Ask outrank you by leveraging their domain authority + "fair use" of your content? Here is how to block their bot in robots.txt:

User-agent: Teoma
Disallow: /

Google has the ability to warp markets as they see fit, be it ad exchanges, tax policy, copyright, trademark, or hard coding the search results for self-promotion. While reading Gmail a couple minutes ago I saw the following ad, which I think prettymuch sums up Google's approach to search: monetize everything!

With great power comes great responsibility, however working on the Google spam team must feel a bit like the movie Brazil when watching this stuff unfold.

Remember how all kinds of affiliates were given the boot by Google for not "adding value"? How are lander pages like this one adding any value? 10 of 10 above the fold links are monetized. And it looks like their sites are using content spinning too!

The promise of the web was that it could directly connect supply and demand to make markets more efficient, and yet leading search engines are paying to create a layer of (g)arbitrage that lowers the utility and value of the network for everyone else, while pushing even more publishers into bankruptcy as the leeches grow in size & number.

My guess is that unless this short term opportunism changes, some of the star search engineers will leave in disgust within 12 to 18 months. Mark 2012 on your calendars, it will be a good year for clean search plays like Blekko and DuckDuckGo. ;)

Published: November 26, 2010

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Comments

November 26, 2010 - 9:55pm

After the run for cheap content mills, these networks are now spreading their wings into the white-label content creation Q&A websites servicing.

I sat in a couple of pitches lately, and all would like to sell a white label content creation business, which sits on a subdomain of your brand, but you lease the content.

Not long until this hole gets plugged, low quality content should die, or it's the end of the usefulness of the Interwebs!

On the flip side, I just pulled 600K queries which brought referral traffic from search engines starting with:
- How to..
- What is..
- How much is..
seems there is a real need for relevant Q&A pages on every major website! As long as it is relevant!

November 26, 2010 - 10:19pm

The mass auto-generation of content really exposes the fallacy of Eric Schmidt's "brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

Anytime Google puts too much weight on *anything* it will get abused. And he didn't do Google shareholders any favors by telecasting where "the algorithm" was headed.

November 28, 2010 - 10:50am

Like you said, money is now almost the ONLY factor in SERP's, and i mean Adsense money. Google is no longer organizing the web just milking it. And if this continues, not only engineers will leave G, but users as well...

November 29, 2010 - 8:10pm

"Anytime Google puts too much weight on *anything* it will get abused."

I remember you saying pretty much exactly this a while ago. A few days ago, I was wondering about how...everybody can link, now (I want to create a website with useful links for students in my area (ive grown up in this small'ish university town i live in) ...but feel highly compelled to just put it on my "facebook").

and how search engines (until..if ever..we have awesome A.I. algorithms) have to follow people (and the signals they leave).

And then I remembered what you said about this - that google has learned not to overly rely on any one signal (if I remember correctly).

I assume, you're not thinking along the lines that off-page SEO will be *all* about social media signals, as those - as any one signal - can be spammed, right?

November 30, 2010 - 12:31am

Google would be idiotic to rely on data sources that others own and control (primarly at 1 central controlling point) as their core algorithmic signal.

Why?

Well, Facebook could always beat them at that particular game because Facebook hosts the interactions and has a better view of that data.

When you compare that against the link graph (vastly distributed) it means that it is very hard for an external company to create better signals of relevancy off of it (given Google's experience with working with the link graph).

Now if Google buys Twitter then sure they might start to put more weight on it, but they wouldn't put a ton of weight on it unless they owned it. A parallel here is "universal search" which launched only *after* Google bought YouTube.

November 30, 2010 - 5:49am

I must admit I just realized I didn't think this through thoroughly enough :D

totally makes sense that google wont put a ton of weight on data that one single other company (perhaps their main competitor..) controls.

thx for the reply as always!

November 30, 2010 - 5:22pm

The first reason we've got the kind of spam you're complaining about is that Google isn't a question-answering system like, say, Wolfram Alpha.

If the web is thin in a particular area, AnswerSpam improves search results more than it hurts them.

The second reason is that governments and honest local businesspeople are ignorant of all aspects of having a web presence, including SEO.

A few weeks ago I needed to file another DBA filing at the county clerk and I hoped I could find information about this online. The first page I got was from some idiots who wanted to charge me $250 for the work. No results came up from the county clerk's office because the got rooked by a vendor that sold them a CMS which is an SEO black hole.

I called the county clerk and found I could do the filing myself for $25 and I did that. If governments insist on making their sites impossible to crawl, it's inevitable that profiteers will move in.

In the private sector, it's the same way. My account charges me about $250 a year to do my taxes, and it's worth it, because I've got a complicated situation. I was working for a job shop at the time that targeted people like him, so he asked me what a web site would cost. I suggested that we'd probably charge about $2000 and he was visibly shocked... However, had he thought about it from a business perspective, a web site that simply brings in 10 new client a years would pay for itself quite quickly.

Similarly, the people who do bail bonds in Hercules, CA are probably entirely oblivious to the web and they're not going to make the effort to be discoverable.

If they're not going to do it, ask.com is. I'm certainly not going to work for the bail bond provider in Hercules, CA because (i) he's not going to pay me what the web site is worth to him, and (ii) like ask.com, I like to play large-scale, wholesale, not retail.

November 30, 2010 - 5:40pm

If the web is thin in a particular area, AnswerSpam improves search results more than it hurts them. ... If they're not going to do it, ask.com is.

2 salient points that the above miss IMHO:

  • Anything which pulls in search traffic using 3RD PARTY CONTENT while being almost entirely automated drives more legitimate publishers into bankruptcy. As the parasite grows, the body it feeds on becomes weaker.
  • There is nothing wrong with Ask trying to build out a QnA service, but if they were aiming to be legitimate with it, would it have so much auto-generated content with no editorial filter AND be put on so many different subdomains on different sites? Even ones that were closed for nearly a decade? (Put another way, if I did the same thing I *know* Google would torch me.)

Also keep in mind that what Ask is doing is not really covering new ground (for the most part anyway). If they are just duplicating what already exists elsewhere online they are simply making it that much harder to find whatever signal there is out there.

Then you also need to factor in "answers" being pulled out of their original context decreasing their value and utility (in many cases). If a person does not know who wrote something or when it was published it makes it harder to know if it is credible and relevant.

And it is doubtful the bails bond folks need Ask to create a bunch of geo-targeted autogenerated content spun subdomains either. I mean IAC's staple of companies already offer InsiderPages, CitySearch (and CityGrid), Merchant Circle, and then specialty directories of various stripes like their Hotels.com or ServiceMagic.com.

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