Monday, July 03, 2006

Are Made for AdSense Sites Ruining Search Results?

A really nice discussion of what domain monetisation really means to the end users, to the small website owners, and in general, everyone who USES the web.


HTML version available at: http://www.sitepronews.com/archives/2006/jun/30.html

By Adam McFarland of iPrioritize.com (http://www.iprioritize.com) (c) 2006


It's happened to you. You've searched for something on Google
and several promising results appear. You click on a link, but
when you get to the site all you see are a few ads and nothing
even remotely close to what you searched for. So you go back to
the search results and try again, only it happens again and
again until you finally find a page with some decent content...
or frustration sets in and you give up all together.

Why does this happen? How come in this day and age Google can't
give you the results you're looking for? A large part of the
answer is the growing number of made for AdSense (MFA) sites on
the web today. MFA sites are designed for the sole purpose of
getting you to click on a Google AdSense advertisement.

Define Made for AdSense

A site is made for AdSense if its sole purpose is to get users
to click on AdSense ads. Its owners don't intend that users will
learn from its content or participate in a community. All that
they want is for them to click on an ad.

A site is NOT made for AdSense if its primary purpose is to
provide unique content and the site owner decides to keep their
content free by displaying advertisements, AdSense or other.
This has been going on for years - television, newspapers, and
magazines all generate revenue with advertisements. The
difference is that the advertisements SUPPLEMENT the content of
the show or article. The same applies for the web. If you have a
news site or a forum, placing ads on your site does not make it
a made for AdSense site.

Why Do People Make MFA Sites?

The thing with MFA sites is that they work. The overwhelming
majority of the population has no clue what Google AdSense is
and doesn't understand that Google and the site owner make money
when they click on an ad. By placing these ads in locations that
people tend to focus on (Google gives you examples of locations
that result in the highest click-through), it's inevitable that
a certain percentage of visitors will click on the ads - either
intentionally or unintentionally.

Site owners make anywhere from five cents to several dollars per
click (revenue is split between them and Google) depending on the
industry. Big deal right? If you convert 5% of users into clicks
and you make 10 cents a click, you're only making 50 cents for
every hundred visitors to your site. Well if you make a thousand
MFA sites and each gets two hundred visitors a day, you are
making a cool $1,000/day.

Smart MFA site owners design sites with keywords that advertisers
pay more than the standard 20 cents or 30 cents. They design
sites with "content" about lawyers and car companies that
purchase AdWords advertisements that cost several dollars a
click. Re-do that calculation with five dollars a click instead
of 10 cents and your jaw will drop.

How do they get their traffic? In addition to using conventional
white hat SEO methods (like unique content and link building),
many of these sites shamelessly also take advantage of keyword
stuffing and cloaking - tactics that are considered unethical
and are against Google's terms of service. Many also get their
clicks in unethical ways - either by clicking on ads themselves
or by employing bots to automatically click. This is called
click fraud and is also against Google's terms of service.

Who Gets Hurt?

Some would argue that no one is getting hurt by "tricking"
people into clicking. Hey they're not getting charged anything.
No, but some advertiser is. Some business that's pouring their
hard earned money into Google AdWords to attract TARGETED
visitors to their site. Instead they end up paying for
accidental clicks.

You (the searcher) also get hurt by getting less than optimal
results. Imagine an internet where these sites didn't exist. You
might actually have a chance at finding what you're looking for
on the first try. That would save you some time that I'm sure
you'd be glad to have.

Should Google Do Something About It?

Everyone's first thought is "Google could stop it if they tried."
In reality, probably not. Regardless of the talent they recruit,
there are literally hundreds of thousands of people trying to
figure out a work around. As Seth Jayson recently said in his
article about the same topic entitled "How Google is Killing the
Internet" (http://www.fool.com/news/commentary/2006/commentary06060927.htm)
"I think when you pit a few hundred Google Smarty Pantses -- who
are getting fat on stock options and gourmet meals at the Big
Goo campus -- against many thousand enterprising schemers on
the Internet, the battle will go to those hungry schemers every
time."

Google does have a system in place to reduce click fraud and are
always improving their algorithm to rid their results of sites
that practice cloaking, keyword stuffing, and other black hat
SEO techniques. Unfortunately, it's probably not enough.

The larger (and much scarier) question is whether or not Google
wants to do something about it. For the time being, they stand
to make a ton of money off of MFA sites. Until Google starts to
see a negative impact from MFA sites there's really no reason
for them to rush to do anything about it. Say Yahoo! all of a
sudden came up with a way to identify and block MFA sites and
provided better search results because of it, Google may be
threatened by the potential (or actual) loss of search percentage.
But until that happens I wouldn't expect Google to do much more
than they are right now.

What Can You Do?

There's no doubt that MFA sites have clogged up the web with
thousands of worthless pages. The best way to reduce the number
of made for AdSense sites is probably to do something about it
yourself. If you advertise on Google AdWords, don't allow Google
to display your ads on their content network (AdSense sites). As
an internet user, you can educate others about MFA sites and
encourage them not to click on ads. It may not seem like much,
but all of those clicks add up - just ask someone who owns a
made for AdSense site.

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