Bing Hates Santorum, Too

Danny Sullivan notes that Rick Santorum’s “Google Problem” is a “Bing problem,” too. The standard argument here is that the “Spreading Santorum” site is obviously and explicitly an attempt to manipulate search engines. The whole point of such campaigns is to create links and online activity that make the manipulated site look like it’s ranking organically—and the whole point of manual actions by search engines is to deal with cases where the algorithm isn’t effective enough. That pattern shows up pretty consistently among spammy sites: they rank well for a while, they get caught, and they get demoted. The fact that Bing and Google both treat this manipulative linking behavior the same way fits in with the theory that it’s in some way political—to people who see Rick Santorum as a legitimately bad guy, it’s hard to get worked up about this (compared to getting worked up about, e.g. racist photos of Michelle Obama). Microsoft employees, incidentally, donate mostly to Democrats, though less so than Google employees.

And there’s ample evidence that the “Spreading Santorum” site is feebler than the official campaign site. For one thing, Open Site Explorer claims that RickSantorum.com is more authoritative thanSpreadingSantorum.com. And that ignores the latter site’s extremely unnatural link profile.

Twitter search for “Santorum” reveals lots of discussions of Rick Santorum, and little to no use of the neologism, except in reference to Santorum the politician. (Try that search with another politician whose name is also a sexual slang term: a Twitter search for “Bush” shows at least a few people using it as a slang term.

Inside Zynga

A former Zynga engineer had a long, wide-ranging interview on Reddit, in which he confirmed most of what we already know about Zynga: they’re data-driven in a broad sense, and data-obsessed in a narrow sense. He also discusses “Zynga Black” customers, who spend more than $10,000 on a single game. However, the ex-Zynga employee later states that these players are 5% of the gaming population, implying a lifetime ARPU of $500 or more. He also refers to the IPO in the future tense. He might mean that 5% of paying players hit some sort of big-money status. But the $10k players are still likely to be serious outliers. (Based on other details from the interview, the most likely explanation is that this person really did work for Zynga, and is just a really sloppy writer.)

In other Reddit news, Jeff DeChambeau nails the lowest common denominator meets echo chamber vibe of reddit and other social media sites. Meanwhile, Reddit has reluctantly banned some sexual content—reluctantly, perhaps, because they’d have to admit that this was within their terms of service before.

More Buzzfeed Poaching

Buzzfeed has successfully hired Amy Odell for their fashion site. It’s interesting that their hiring strategy has a PR overlay: they’re announcing hires one at a time, and picking people who are popular within the media rather than just among their users. That makes them the story of the day in political media (when they got Ben Smith), consumer tech reviews (when they hired Matt Buchanan from Gizmodo), and now fashion reporting.

(Perhaps according to play, David Carr has profiled them, too.)

Facebook Updates

  • Facebook has rolled out advertisements next to photos. Let’s put that another way: the site that has been the largest photo sharing site since at least 2010 is now running ads on photos.
  • Facebook is offering $5 of credits for $1. Taking a loss to get the credit card number of a just-on-the-edge prospect is a time-honored lead generation tactic. (And deals like this might explain the [discrepancy])http://www.insidesocialgames.com/2012/02/10/there-is-a-100m-discrepancy-in-facebooks-payments-revenues/) between how much FB collects from credits and how much it pays to developers).

Google Updates

  • Shades of the Mocality Disaster a few weeks ago: an Australian yellow pages provider is using their Google partnership to mass-spam Google Local listings. Since local is growing faster than other markets, but is far less scalable for Google, we’ll see more spam—both because Google can’t catch it, and because they’re outsourcing more of their work to third parties, who have less of an incentive to care about dubious practices.
  • According to Mark Mahaney, Google is still the top traffic source for most top sites. Google is getting stronger in Finance, Autos, and Travel, and weaker in Health.
  • Google is offering to pay users nominal amounts for much more data. It’s quite popular. As always, the market price of data is entirely dependent on how you phrase it: “How much would you sell your privacy for?” yields one number; gift cards in exchange for browser history yields another.

Link-Building: The Stats

SEOMoz has some hard data from link-building campaigns. Most of it should be pretty pleasing to search engines: the best way to do link-building is to customize a pitch (in other words, if you want scale you’ll need to use AdWords), and the best results are in-house, not from agencies (if you want to spend money on a third party, it should be AdWords).

Stripe Raises a Round at $100mm

Stripe, the insanely simple payments API, has raised a round with a $100mm valuation. (Earlier investors include Y Combinator and two Paypal cofounders; a third is participating in this round.) By all accounts, Stripe is easy to use and far superior to most of the other payment options available—for anyone who can’t or shouldn’t do payments in-house, but who is getting tired of (or scared of) Paypal, Stripe is turning into the default option.

This is notable given Paypal’s efforts to become less of an online-only payment platform. While their method might work, Stripe’s is much faster—Paypal is basically trying to convert the world one point of sale system at a time; if Stripe can get into smartphone apps, and get transactions to happen on the apps instead, they’ll be able to outflank their much larger competitor.

This also exemplifies something about how much the startup balance of power has shifted towards founders: depending on the exact cap table, Stripe’s cofounders may already have a higher net work than many of the Paypal founders had when they exited to eBay.

VCs and PR

Leena Rao asks why VCs are getting into PR. One obvious reason: part of their job is to gossip, and the scoop is the currency of the media/PR business. So currying favor with journalists, and using it to aim the spotlight at their favored investments, should be a core competency.

This is part of the Y Combinator success story, too. Yes, the advice and connections are great. But Y Combinator is really good at putting on a show.

Meanwhile in the parts of VC-land that aren’t just about glad-handing and razzmatazz: Roger Ehrenberg’s IA Ventures has raised $105mm to invest in big data startups. This could be a good macro sign: successful seed investors teeing up for A and B rounds would be great; seed-stage and late-stage rounds are taken care of, but it’s the tens of millions of dollars to get from the former to the latter that’s increasingly hard to come by.

Another Pre-IPO Liquidity Play

Evernote’s investors exited for a 10X return a few weeks ago. Now, some of Conduit’s early investors are selling, giving the firm a $2.5bn valuation. That number might be a little inflated, though; search engines are overpaying for toolbar placement, and Conduit’s toolbar deals have been a part of that.

LinkedIn Beats Expectations, Again

LinkedIn once again ramped up all of its major business segments, and reported a 105% year over year gain in revenue for the fourth quarter. Particularly notable: they’re being driven by Hiring Solutions, which is the most strategically valuable part of the business as well. The marketing side is fine&dmash;big audience, great demographic targeting. And premium subscriptions are a good upsell for Power Recruiters (and the Power Unemployed). But hiring solutions is LinkedIn’s attempt to sneak into a very valuable conversion funnel. A hiring decision is a six-figure choice, and a typical middleman’s take for a middle-manager recruiting deal will be $20,000 or more. If LinkedIn can own more of that process, they’ll be in a great position.

SearchQuant is now covering LinkedIn Ads. Highly recommended.

“Stealing” Address Books and Social Norms

Path got caught uploading users’ addressbooks to their servers without asking. This temporarly provoked some outrage, but then led to some startling responses: apparently, this kind of thing is ubiquitous. Yes, it creates potential privacy violations—but app creators seem to have strong social norms against actually abusing this information. In fact, it’s instructive that the app that got caught, Path, was using the address book in a completely benign way (and perhaps got caught in part because it’s a popular product, which got popular in part through this white-hat data abuse). Chris Dixon, who knows a thing or two about security and the consumer web, has more.

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The market price of privacy, inside Zynga, and even more on Santorum