Sploggers are almost certainly the most prolific plagiarists on the Web. A handful of determined and capable sploggers can swipe content from literally thousands of different sites, scraping their RSS feeds and taking their content as their own. Thus, even though the actual number of “career” sploggers is probably very small, their effects can be felt far and wide over the Internet.
Recently, however, I was given the chance to sit down and speak with an individual who had dabbled in splogging. Though he has ceased plagiarizing and even stopped his automated postings, he was able to provide me a great deal of insight into the world of splogging and the exact reasons that “black hats” have taken up the craft.
As it turns out, things aren’t as simple or obvious as they seem and, while the profit motivation of sploggers is pretty clear, how that profit is achieved is a little bit less apparent.
Not for Human Eyes
As most have gathered, splogs were never intended for human eyes. Most sploggers have no desire to attract human readers to their plagiarized sites. They’re quick, crude, low quality and, almost always, illegal. Visitors to them will not likely click any ads placed upon them nor follow any links provided.
That’s why very few splogs, these days, run ads within the splog itself (Though some apparently do). Not only would it be a direct violation of the Adsense TOS that could result in them getting all of their funding cut, but it’s not a likely source of revenue. Human-visited splogs are high risk with almost no potential for gain.
Instead, splogs contain links to other sites, usually long junk domains loaded with keywords, which they are trying to get the search engines to pick up. These sites, generally, are nothing but a keyword loaded header with a miniscule amount of copy and several different groups of text ads arranged to look like either search results or regular links. By the time the site is set up, over 90% of the site is covered with Adsense ads or a similar service.
The hope is that, with enough spam links to the domain, they can gain ground in the search rankings and get targeted visitors to those sites to click the links (Note: According to most SEO experts and my own research, this does NOT work. You can only expedite getting listed, not drastically improve your ranking, thus hundreds of junk posts are a waste). Those targeted visitors will then click the ads, either out of curiosity or because they mistook them for regular links.
It’s a classic example of black hat SEO that simply involves widespread plagiarism to make it work.
Google is NOT the Target
One of the interesting things that came out of my discussion with the reformed splogger is that Google is not the target of splogs. As odd as it may seem, Yahoo indexes entire sites much more quickly than Google and is even faster at picking up Blogspot blogs because it considers it such an important domain. Thus, even though the service is wholly owned by Google itself, Yahoo is the first to snatch up links contained with it.
The desired end result is that Yahoo searchers will be directed to the junk domains where they will then click on the Google Adsense ads. This arrangement is not only very profitable for the splogger, since they get a sizeable chunk of the revenue from each ad click, but is very beneficial to Google as they are getting money directly from Yahoo’s visitors.
Since most splogs are cleaned up before they reach the Google database, it’s mainly Yahoo, Technorati, Ice Rocket and the other fast-indexing search engines that have the most to lose.
The Google Link
If what this splogger says is true, then Google would seem to have little motivation to clamp down on this. Yes, splogs impact their Blogspot servers and cause many legitimate bloggers to debate leaving it, but the impact can easily be negated by the profit they stand to gain. While I’m very far away from saying that Google is directly involved or colluding with sploggers, in fact they have been very aggressive in shutting them down since the outcry against them began (especially since several major blog search engines stopped accepting new Blogspot accounts for their searches); there is a clear conflict of interest here.
Of course, this is the exact type of conflict of interest that arises when a company gains too much power in too many lines of business. Though their motto says that one doesn’t have to be evil to make money and they certainly seem to be handling the conflict very well, it’s hard not to worry.
In the end, how Google handles the splogging crisis will show a great deal about the company itself, both in terms of its capabilities and its trustworthiness. The world is watching Google, please don’t forget that.
I will be posting more on this issue as my conversations and research reveal more information. Stay tuned for more glimpses behind the most prolific plagiarists on the planet as I am certain more revelations are due soon.