How This Panda Victim Google-Proofed His Business

Earlier this week, famous web entrepreneur Jason Calacanis unleashed his new app Inside. It’s a news aggregation service, which has proven immediately addictive to fans. While the app itself is ...
How This Panda Victim Google-Proofed His Business
Written by Chris Crum
  • Earlier this week, famous web entrepreneur Jason Calacanis unleashed his new app Inside. It’s a news aggregation service, which has proven immediately addictive to fans. While the app itself is an interesting enough story in its own right, there’s another story here that has a moral a lot of online businesses should pay attention to: you need a business that’s Google-proof.

    Does your business rely on Google for traffic? Would you survive if Google de-indexed you? How can you avoid getting killed an algorithm update? Share your thoughts in the comments.

    If you rely primarily on Google, you’re always at the mercy of its algorithm. One unfavorable move and your business could be evaporated, or at the very least, badly damaged. “Diversify your traffic sources” has been a mantra for many since Google unleashed the Panda update in 2011, victimizing many content providers, including Calacanis.

    If you’ll recall, his site Mahalo was among the more well-known victims, and the update led to Calcanis reducing his staff by 10%. Mahalo was never really able to recover from Panda, even after some tweaks to strategy, like relying more on YouTube videos.

    So now he’s taken the team and investors from Mahalo, and created something new. Something Google-proof. It may not sit well with some of the old media crowd (the crowd that still frowns upon Google News), but he’s created something that Google shouldn’t be able to harm.

    Here’s what Inside does: It finds news stories, and employs humans to summarize them in 40 words or 300 characters, and links to the source. It’s really quite simple, but its approach is somewhat refreshing because more than anything else it’s about getting you as much information as possible in as little time as possible. You can consume the gist of countless stories in a relatively short amount of time, and click through to read the stories you really want to know more about from the original source (or at least the source Inside is pointing to). You can browse the “top news,” “all updates,” or your personalized feed, which is constructed of updates based on topics you’ve added (and there are countless topics).


    Calacanis has indicated that Inside tries to reduce the friction that wastes people’s time – things like linkbaiting, slideshows and listicles – and just give you the actual need-to-know info from each story. It’s touted mainly as a mobile app, and has launched for iOS and Blackberry. Android is on the way. You don’t really need the app at all though. I’ve been using the web version on Android all week. Just add the bookmark to your homescreen, and you might as well be using the app. It works just fine. It also works just fine from the desktop.

    Inside Desktop

    In an interview with Re/code, Calcanis said it wasn’t worth it to continue to invest in Mahalo because they were “at the mercy of Google’s algorithm or YouTube’s revenue split.”

    “Mahalo made a lot of money, actually, before Google de-indexed us, and really beat us up with their Google search update. But we have plenty of money left, so as an entrepreneur, having great success with Mahalo then a really bad turn of events, we were left with still making millions of dollars, still having a great team, and decided to create a new product.”

    “I don’t hate Google,” he said. “I’m very frustrated with Google. I would be honest. I think they’re good people. I just don’t think they know how to treat partners well.”

    He may not “hate” Google, but it’s clear that there is still some animosity. His comments extended to Twitter.

    Calacanis talked more about Google-proofing his business in an interview with Staci Kramer at Nieman Journalism Lab. He said he doesn’t think building an “SEO-driven” business works anymore, adding that businesses can’t rely on Google not to steal their business “like they did to Yelp and others.” Here’s an excerpt:

    To make a Google-proof company, I wanted to have a killer brand that people would remember and come to like — a product so compelling that it has a repeatable effect. The problem at Mahalo or eHow is you use it for two hours to get your baking recipe, then you don’t use it again for two months — then you use it again for putting up curtains. You really rely on people going to Google.

    With news, people will go directly to a site, which makes it impervious to Google. And the app ecosystem is also impervious to Google. They can’t control apps even though they have a big footprint in Android, nor have they shown a propensity to control the app ecosystem on Android. I think they would get a revolt on their hands if they did. We’re also adding an email component to this.

    So email, social, and apps are three things that Google can’t control. This is very social — people will share. It’s mobile — Google can’t control that. The email function Google moderately can control.

    He later noted that he sees Inside as “kind of analogous to how Google used to run,” in that Google would point you to places on the web and drive traffic, as opposed to “keeping the traffic for themselves”.

    To that point, Google is showing some users a new type of stock search result (which one of his Tweets above references). It removes the links to competitors like Yahoo Finance and MSN Money. We’re still seeing the old version, which does include links, and have reached out to Google to see if this is just a test or if it is rolling out to everyone. Google has not returned our request for comment as of the time of this writing. It’s interesting that Google would make such a move given that it’s currently being scrutinized for allegedly anti-competitive practices in Europe, where it has already offered up concessions including giving competitors more links and visibility.

    Calacanis isn’t the only one to have been hurt by Google to launch a Google-proof product this week. Rap Genius also has a new app out. Unlike Calacanis’ Mahalo, Rap Genius wasn’t a victim of Panda, but got busted engaging in what Google deemed to be a “link scheme” earlier this month. The site was penalized, but was quickly (and controversially) able to climb out of the penalty box.

    Either way, the mobile app gives it a Google-proof alternative to relying on Google traffic, which could stop flowing on any given day. Calacanis also had comments about this:

    Building a Google proof business is easier said than done though. Inside and Rap Genius are examples that make sense as separate apps that shouldn’t need to rely on traffic from Google. Others will continue to try and recover their existing sites from Google penalties and updates, which may be the only logical route in many cases.

    But if there’s a clear way to get around needing Google, you’d be well-advised to pursue that. If there’s not a “clear” way, you may want to put some thought into other possible directions.

    As far as Inside is concerned, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be a hit, but early reviews have been positive, and it’s pretty easy to see potential monetization strategies via in-stream ads, not unlike those on Facebook or Twitter. Calacanis has already said the model is perfect for this, by the way, though it’s unclear when ads might come.

    It’s very early, but Calacanis may have a winner here. A Google-proof winner.

    What do you think of Calacanis’ strategy for non-Google reliance? How hard is it to get away from dependence on the search giant? Share your thoughts in the comments.

    Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

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