the Good, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly
First off, let me say that this article is not a criticism of Google. Google is a company that simply goes about it's business. It is people taking advantage of Google's business who create the badness and ugliness.
AdSense: what is it?
Google began as just a search engine in the late 1990s, and it was such a good search engine for the time that it became the most popular one by a very long way. In those days, search engines had a tough time trying to make money. Many millions of people used the engines every day, but searching them was free. So, a few years after Google launched, they started their AdWords system. AdWords is the system that produces the advertisements in Google's search results pages. The ads are contextual and match what is on each results page, and an advertiser doesn't pay anything unless a surfer clicks on the ad. AdWords became very popular with advertisers, and Google started to make money.
Then Google took AdWords a stage further, by allowing the ads to be displayed on other people's websites. This is AdSense. When the AdWords ads are displayed on other people's websites, such as this one, it is called AdSense. When visitors to the site click on an AdSense ad, the site owner is paid a large percentage of what the advertiser pays to Google for the click.
AdSense: the Good
AdSense allows website owners to earn money from their sites in a way that they couldn't do before. All they have to do is put the AdSense code in their pages, and some visitors to the site will click on the ads that are displayed. The more visitors a site gets, the more people will click on the ads, and the more money the site owner will make. Because the ads are contextual, they match the content of the pages they are displayed on, which suits the advertisers because it drives people who are interested in their topic to their sites, and they only pay when people click on their ads.
Everyone is happy. Google makes lots of money, advertisers get lots of targeted traffic and only pay for ad impressions when someone clicks on them, Web users can find more things that they are interested in, and website owners can make anything from a small amount of money to a very large amount of money. Even the earnings from tiny websites can often offset or pay for the upkeep of the sites - hosting, for instance. Google created a system where everyone is a winner, and if people hadn't taken advantage of it in ways that weren't intended, everyone would still be happy.
Here endeth the "Good" side of AdSense. Google's creation is excellent, but in launching it, they inadvertantly created something of a monster that just keeps growing.
Some people soon realised that they could capitalise on AdSense in ways that would be detrimental to the Web, to Web users, and to search engines, including Google itself. A new off-white, and sometimes positively black, industry was born.
AdSense: the Bad
Made For AdSense sites (MFA sites)
Shortly after AdSense appeared, MFA sites started to appear.These are sites that are created for the sole purpose of making money from AdSense. Some of them contain genuine information and are useful, but most of them contain nothing of real value to Web users. The non-useful ones usually contain nothing but links to other sites - the links themselves being more AdSense ads - although some of them contain some real content that has been stolen from other websites. They are parasite websites that help nobody but their owners.
The few MFA sites that have been created with genuine, useful content are perfectly good. The rest (most of them) are parasites that make the Web a worse place for everyone except themselves. They are SEOed to rank well in the search engines' search results, which wastes people's time, and is annoying when a search result is clicked on, only to find another list of links to look through and click on. That's not what people are searching for, and it's not what people want. Occasionally, the MFA sites overwhelm the top search results, and it is a real pain trying to find something useful. That situation continues to get worse.
Arbitrage is the purchase of something in one market for immediate resale in another market in order to profit from a price discrepancy. AdSense arbitrage sites are MFA sites that are created to be found in the AdWords system rather than in the search results. They advertise in AdWords, and, when a person clicks on one of their ads, they are taken to a page that offers more ads, but nothing of value.
They advertise on low cost-per-click keywords in AdWords, and their pages are designed to attract high cost-per-click AdSense ads. In many cases, they advertise on low cost topics and their pages are designed to attract high cost ads of a different topic, particularly when the high cost topic includes some of the same words, so that people can be fooled into clicking on the ads.
The only difference between this type of MFA site and the other type is that they operate in different ways. The other one seeks to get free traffic from the search results, while this one pays for the traffic in AdWords, but has to ensure that there is enough difference between the click cost and the click commission to make it worthwhile. Apart from that difference, this type is the same as the other type in that they both offer people nothing of value, and any non-ad content is usually stolen.
AdSense arbitrage sites are not as annoying as the normal MFA sites, because they don't fool people in the generic search results. I've seen advertisers who are really mad about AdSense arbitrage, because they feel they are being cheated, and in some cases they are. I've also seen advertisers who are happy with it, because they feel that people who click on their ads in an arbitrager's site, click because they are interested in what the advertiser is advertising. But I've never seen any ordinary Web user who is happy to land on a page that asks them to look through another list of links and choose again. They already did that in the search results, and they really don't want to do it again. AdSense arbitraging is bad for Web users, and detrimental to the Web.
Both types of MFA sites are mushrooming, and, unless the search engines do something about it, they will continue to mushroom to the detriment of Web users, and the Web itself. Unfortunately, the search engines don't appear to be inclined to do anything about it at the present time. They are not the keepers of the Web, and they are not the Web's police, but the Web will continue to deteriorate until they take some action to prevent the MFA sites from cluttering up the organic search results, and from being displayed in AdWords and AdSense.
AdSense: the Downright Ugly
The MFA sites spoil the Web, but they don't scam people. They merely take advantage of AdSense. But there are also scammers who are taking adavantage of AdSense, by selling something that they know can't succeed. If it could succeed, they wouldn't be offering it to other people - they would be raking in the millions themselves. This AdSense Scams article describes them fully, so I'll just provide a brief summary.
The scams take advantage of people who would like to make some money on the Web, but who are unable to make websites themselves. That description applies to most people. In most cases, for an incredibly low price, they offer an enormous number of ready-made websites that are all set up to take AdSense ads and earn money for the buyer. In some cases, they cheat the buyers by arranging for most of the AdSense money to go into their own AdSense accounts instead of into the buyers' accounts. Also in some cases, they host the sites themselves, and once they are hosting the sites, it is very very easy for them to steal most of the AdSense money. In all cases, what they offer cannot work, and they are all scams because they know it cannot work.
For full details of the scams, please read the article linked-to above.
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