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 â€“ 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 â€“ either intentionally or unintentionally.
Site owners make anywhere from a 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 â€œcontentâ€ 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 â€“ tactics that are considered unethical and are against Google’s terms of service. Many also get their clicks in unethical ways â€“ 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 â€œtrickingâ€ 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 â€œGoogle could stop it if they tried.â€ 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 â€œI 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.â€
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 â€“ just ask someone who owns a made for AdSense site.