The WordPress.org and Hot Nacho Scandal: A Tale of SEO, Hidden Links and Google AdSense

The story of WordPress.org and Hot Nacho, Inc., is not important due to its impact on the World Wide Web as a whole. However, a study of this debacle can be very informative in the way that Google AdSense and search engine optimization (SEO) works, as well as things to avoid in your own SEO.

The Players

To those knowledgeable of the blogosphere, the name of WordPress.org is most likely familiar. WordPress.org is the official home page of the open-source blogging software WordPress. WordPress is used by bloggers around the world, and is an immensely popular blogging system. It is the creation of computer developer Matthew Mullenweg, one of the two major players in this scandal.

Hot Nacho, Inc. is a name less likely to be known to the general public. The brainchild of young entrepreneur Chad Jones, Hot Nacho’s mission is to make search engine optimized content easier to create. The basic component of Hot Nacho’s software line is called ArticleWriter, a basic word processor which automatically defines for the writer keywords for various topics, how many times those keywords must be used and how many words must be in the article as a whole.

Essentially, this is designed to allow anyone, no matter how new to the field of SEO, to be able to craft proper keyword articles with a strong (but not too strong) keyword density. This is complimented by Hot Nacho’s Article Editor and Article Publisher software programs, which turn these basic articles composed in Article Writer and edit and publish them for the web. Although the well-known WordPress.org lies at the heart of the scandal, Hot Nacho, Inc. is the driving force.

Background: Google PageRank and Keyword Optimization

Two important elements of the WordPress.org-Hot Nacho scandal are Google PageRank and keyword optimization. WordPress.org provided the former and Hot Nacho the latter.

Google PageRank is a ranking given to pages of their overall importance and relevance in an attempt to provide the most relevant results to any given internet search. The rankings are given through the use of a complicated algorithm, the most important part of which is the number of outgoing links leading to a web site.

In a nutshell, the more pages link to a certain page, the higher PageRank that page will have. (Although the actual workings of this are a bit more complicated than that). Because every web site that utilizes WordPress automatically have a link back to the wordpress.org web site, wordpress.org has an exceptionally high PageRank. Pages on WordPress.org’s web site, then will have a higher ranking on a Google search than pages on a lower ranked web site.

One of the most talked about aspects of SEO is keyword optimization. Although Google PageRank is certainly a part of the picture, the part of SEO that web site developers have the most control over is keyword optimization. Plainly speaking, a keyword is a word searched out on a search engine. As part of the search engine’s algorithms for finding results is to look at the number of times these keywords are used on a web site.

Keyword optimization, then, is the careful inserting of keywords into web site content so that search engines will pick up on these words and bring people to that web site.

The idea of Chad Jones, founder of Hot Nacho, Inc., was to create a tool that would allow anyone to create web site content that had an optimal amount of keywords. (Neither too few nor too many). This is the primary concept behind Hot Nacho’s Article Writer software. By making it impossible not to create articles that have the proper keyword density (articles cannot be saved until the required keyword optimization has been met), Jones sought to make it easy for anyone to create quality keyword optimized content.

The Game

As part of the beta-testing for Hot Nacho’s three software products (ArticleWriter, ArticleEditor and ArticlePublisher), Jones made a deal with Mullenweg of WordPress.org. The deal would be for WordPress.org to host articles created using the Hot Nacho system on its server (with the wordpress.org domain and PageRank, of course). These articles would carry Google AdSense advertising, the revenue from which would go to Hot Nacho. WordPress.org would be paid a flat fee for the opportunity to host these articles on their web site.

For the players, it seemed a win-win situation. WordPress.org, an open-source project, could use the fee to help pay the overhead for hosting the WordPress project. Hot Nacho would get the chance to show that its system worked, creating large numbers of hits as well as revenue based off of their mass-produced articles.

These articles were being written by writers from around the world, working through a number of beta-tester editors. Much was made of the low pay these writers received, between $2.50 and $3 an article for 500 words. (To earn $100 would require 20,000 words!) However, there are no estimates as to actually how much was earned by Hot Nacho from these articles. Considering the number of pages combined with the ranking of the WordPress.org web site, it was most likely a substantial sum.

Hidden Links: The Scandal

Now all of this in and of itself, while viewed by many in the internet community as scamming and spamming, is not specifically against the rules of Google AdSense. While hosting a numerous amount of these keyword content articles (Hot Nacho’s Chad Jones claims there were about 40,000 articles total) could be considered spamming, there is nothing blatant in the mere hosting of these articles to cause the reaction that Google had to the program.

The major sin of WordPress.org in hosting these articles was not the hosting of them in itself (although this certainly created quite a stir) but the creation of hidden links.

Hidden links are links that are placed on a web page in such a way that they can be picked up by search engine crawlers but not by the average user of the web site. This lets search engines know the pages are there, and list them accordingly, but none of the users on the site have any idea of the existence of these pages. The only way to get to the Hot Nacho articles hosted on WordPress.org’s web site was through a search engine. In the case of WordPress.org, this was done using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to put the links well off the page visible to the user, but with the links still being read by a search engine crawler.

This sort of trickery is specifically against Google’s rules for AdSense users, and Google took immediate action against WordPress.org. All of their pageranking was removed, so that no one be able to find WordPress.org or the hosted articles on search engines anymore, and the AdSense program was immediately suspended.

The End of the Whole Thing

Eventually the problem was settled amicably. Mullenweg, unaware of the import of his actions in hosting the articles with the hidden links, immediately removed the links and the articles themselves, returning the site to normal. Google restored WordPress.org’s page rankings, and the matter was essentially forgotten. Already an established player in the blogging world, it would be difficult to bring them down through such a mistake.

For Hot Nacho, the scandal ended a major source of income for the fledgling corporation. Although still struggling to make itself known in the world (according to its web site it is still in the beta-test stage), one wonders if anyone will ever be able to take them seriously. Of course, the idea of Hot Nacho’s software is brilliant for those who are not concerned with bringing actual information to the internet, but only in making a quick buck off of mediocre content. Only time will tell if Hot Nacho will truly revolutionize the way we read the internet.

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