Updated: Faced with declining revenues and increasingly dismal prospects, some mainstream media outlets are adopting questionable tactics, specifically dead-end web pages stuffed with outbound links and pay-per-click ads. A liberally funded LA startup is only too quick to help them. The story starts with San Francisco-based sex writer Violet Blue. She used to be a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, the SF daily with ever-declining circulation.
Recently, while writing a column, she did a search through the archives of SFGate.com, the online presence of the Chron. She discovered that the web site was “copying” and “distorting” her column archives. (Here’s the link— Warning: Not Safe for Work) Here’s how she describes what she saw:
The column had been stripped of all links, and divided across several pages. My bio was missing, as were all the comments. Freakishly, all the commas were gone. And the URL had been changed. The address was comprised of words; to my horror the URL had been keyworded to say “ashamed porn star” — the exact opposite of the article’s content. There is a much bigger story here. It’s all in what’s going on with archive duplication and the nation’s old media newspapers online. I think that the work done to the duped content is done for the purpose of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The idea here seems to be stripping content, duplicating it, make SEO’d content that is a dead end for readers, and drive up results with cost per click ads.
The San Francisco Chronicle, it seems, like the Los Angeles Times, is using the technology of an LA-based startup, Perfect Market, which has raised $20 million from Trinity Ventures, Rustic Canyon Ventures and others. Tim Oren, a venture capitalist at The Pacifica Fund, on his blog, Due Diligence, points out that while there’s nothing illegal about what the newspapers are doing, it does border on scraping. Typically, spammers scrape web sites, then set up shadow blogs and fill them with pay-per-click ads. As Oren writes:
The keyword and ad-stuffed dead end pages apparently produced by Perfect Markets’s technology are isomorphic, from a search company’s point of view, to those created by more questionable tactics such as scraping. The intent is the same: to spam the index. This is the behavior that routinely gets questionable sites shoved to Google’s back pages, or banished altogether. One has to wonder just how long this type of abuse will be tolerated, simply because it’s being practiced by a recognized media outlet.
I couldn’t agree more. Nor could I help but notice the irony, considering how quick the mainstream media is to lament the traffic-stealer that is Google. It wouldn’t surprise me if more newspapers adopted these kind of strategies.
Update #1: A reader after some sleuthing points out that Perfect Market may also be working with LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinal, South Florida Sun Sentinal, Hartford Courant, Allentown Morning Call, Virginia Daily Press and the New York Daily News.
Update #2: Julie Schoenfeld, Perfect Market CEO Responds:
Perfect Market has been working over the past year to increase revenue for newspapers through search and social media and we have had wonderful success. We are actively working with our partners to delight our customers and users with innovative new content experiences. In the meantime, there are factual errors being perpetuated about our services that we would be remiss to leave unaddressed.
Here are the facts:
* Perfect Market serves up professionally produced news articles on the major search engines and only works with high-quality publishers. Our pages contain highly professional editorial content, representing decades of careful work by journalists and writers who work for publishers to produce quality content. We are held to a high standard by our publishers to preserve the integrity and quality of content we publish online, and we hold ourselves to a high standard.
* We are not ‘scraping’ ‘spamming’ ‘keyword-stuffing’ or ‘duplicating content’. While spammers attempt to surface pages with little meaningful content. Perfect Market simply manages the search experience for publishers. We provide contextual navigation to relevant related content and topics so the user can browse the publishers vast content library rather than creating dead ends. Content is not unreadable. Quite the contrary, it is out in the open and accessible to all, and often times, more accessible than ever before.
* We know how traffic from search engines and properly targeted CPC ads can generate big revenues. We are bringing those learning’s to high quality publishers so they can more fully participate in the vibrant internet ecosystem.