July 18th, 2007
With all the speculation about Yahoo’s woes and Google’s recent climbs in the stock market, I wonder if investors are aware Google’s recent crack down on Made-for-Adsense websites. I absolutely support June 1 ban on spammy sites that that exist only to trick people into clicking on their Pay-per-Click ads. But the big news is that Google has turned a blind eye to these sites and finally started cracking down on June 1.
I am a big Google booster – I greatly respect their services and their philosophy and I have a bit of Google stock in my retirement account. I also follow search engine news pretty closely. There has been a lot of reporting on this issue among web publishers, and a lot of annoying whining. Though I’m far from an insider, I think most who pay attention to these issues know Google is going to take an earnings hit by banning these sites.
Everyone has seen and despises these Made-for-AdSense websites. They are the bane of the Internet. In a word: Evil. You are searching for some product or service and, instead of getting a vendor or some helpful recommendations, you get a page full of ads. They are a complete waste of time and are often carefully disguised to look like a helpful site. These sites are very profitable for their owners because they don’t supply anything of value to the web surfer. A searcher’s only choice is to click one of the many AdSense links that appear more helpful or click the back button. Good sites with quality content don’t earn as much money because people find what they are looking for and often ignore the ads.
So knowing that these sites are one of the most evil annoying things on the web, wasting many hours of searchers’ time, you would have assumed that Google had banned them a long time ago. I always figured they just had a hard time policing all those tricky scammers. I would even submit complaints against the worst violators to Google to help them track down all the scofflaws.
The real news is that Google was allowing these sites to thrive and just finally banned them on June 1. Moreover, prior to the ban, they issued warnings so that these sites could prepare, and, I assume, get ads from another source. And Google is paying out all revenues earned in this deceptive manner. Instead of just outright banning the sites, they send warnings and give the sites time to comply. It is outrageous. By supporting and encouraging the creation of these sites, Google has created this entire annoying phenomenon, profited from it, and are reluctant to stop it. If this ban is not heavy handed enough to have an impact on Google’s profits, then it is not actually broad enough to stop the spread of spammy sites.
It is not like Google has any problem banning people from their AdSense program. Webmaster boards are filled with people who have had their AdSense accounts disabled and earnings confiscated. I myself have a site that tried AdSense during the first months of the program. I worked at a web design company where everyone was intrigued and loved the program. Based on that experience we recommended it to our clients. And suddenly my site was banned for click fraud. I have no idea why – maybe a co-worker innocently clicked on ads in a way that was connected to my account. I don’t know. I do know there was nothing systematic or malicious. Google won’t give information and the ban is permanent. I was incredibly frustrated by this but always took it as a sign that Google has extremely high quality standards and anything that looks remotely fraudulent would be banned. For some reason Google finds the notion of click-fraud to be a larger threat to their advertising program.
Again, I’m a Google supporter and hate it when I hear people complaining about how Google is solely profit driven. I generally think that Google strives to focus on users and tries to avoid profit chasing and marketing gimmicks. So there are only two reasons I can see that Google has taken so long to ban these sites. 1) It is going to greatly impact their revenue. Search and content ads are THE engine that has fed Google’s growth. It is Google’s main, if not only, revenue source. Or 2) Maybe someone has finally found a way to legally challenge Google on these site bans and they are afraid they’ll be slammed in the courts, especially after they allowed MFA sites to fester for so long.
I’m guessing it is financial. That has to be why Google waited so long to ban these sites and why they are doing it in an incremental manner. They also waited to do it until a time when they are diversifying by offering radio and print ads. It is still disgusting that they let this continue for so long.
Though it may hurt me as a stockholder, I have to wonder aloud how this is going to affect Google’s profits. No mistake – even as a stockholder I don’t care if it hurts profits. I would rather they had banned these sites a long time ago. I really wonder if Wall Street is aware of this big change to Google’s revenue source and what impact it could have. I sure hope that I’m missing something here. I recognize that Google is in a tough spot. But they have been earning money through fraud and deceit and I wish they would move more swiftly to change it.