Adsense: The Trailer Parks of the Web

I’ve been feeling a groundswell of animosity toward websites with Adsense. I’ve seen directories starting to make the decision to list a site or not based on how obnoxious the Adsense ads are. I’ve seen Wikipedia editors, the ones who even bother to look at a site listed at the bottom of an article, remove a link to a site because it had Adsense ads on it. A few years ago, it was the affiliate site that was the www version of a trailer park, now it’s the MFA site.

MFA (Made for Adsense) sites tend to be low quality, light on the content and heavy on the Adsense. In the worst cases, the content is scraped. Scraped content is assembled with software that scours the web, and will either blatantly steal content from other sources or put together search engine result pages as if it were genuine content. One step up from scraped content is the article sites. There are many websites that offer collections of articles that webmasters are free to use, which usually are given because they contain a link to the author’s own website. The intent of giving those articles is that they’d be placed on a relevant website, and people who read the article and liked it would click to the author’s home page. What the MFA sites are doing is instead of taking individual articles to offer to people visiting their sites, they’ll take the entire collection of articles. Thus, we get thousands upon thousands of versions of these articles posted which decreases the value to everyone involved.

Who does this hurt? It hurts legitimate publishers. It builds a prejudice against websites using Adsense as a revenue generator. When we submit our websites to directories, will we be treated the same as the MFA sites, because the directory editor can’t look beyond the Adsense? Back when I was an ODP editor, this was a big issue with affiliate sites. Many of the ODP editors couldn’t look past affiliate links on a site. When I spoke up and said that the ODP should not consider affiliate links, that if the site’s content was good enough to be listed without the affiliate links, it should be good enough to be listed with affiliate links. For saying that, ODP removed me as an editor. I’m seeing the same fights brewing over Adsense.

It hurts advertisers too. I won’t go into whether MFA sites increase the click fraud problem, but certainly a dilution of quality harms advertisers in several ways. First, the dilution of quality will make advertisers think twice before allowing their Adwords campaigns to show on the content network. That hurts publishers, advertisers, and Google. It hurts publishers because they’re going to miss out on the good as well as the bad. Sadly, when the bad overwhelms the good in Adsense, I can’t blame advertisers for staying away. It also hurts advertisers by crowding them out of the natural search engine results pages.

So, what do legitimate publishers do? Some of us will certainly move away from Adsense. When having Adsense does more harm to us than the revenue is worth, we’ll go away. We can approach the advertisers directly. It makes more work for us, certainly, but in the end the results will be justified. We also need to be careful who we link out to. Linking to MFA sites will do you no good, and can potentially harm your TrustRank. We also need to become more vigilant about content theft. We need to lobby Google to increase quality control on where they allow Adsense to be placed. We also need to lobby Google (and other search engines) to help us by removing scraped content from their index. Overwhelming? Yes.

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