Is Adsense Broken?

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Adsense is a vicious double-edged sword. On one side it allows legitimate Webmasters, including myself, to monetize their sites, when it would otherwise be impossible.

Whether it merely pays for hosting or helps pay for a solid living, Adsense has enabled a near-endless stream of free content on the Web.

On the other side, it has empowered spam bloggers, plagiarists and scammers to profit from ill-gotten gains. It, in large part, has made possible the splog issue, including sites such as Bitacle , and helped bring about a torrent of content theft and copyright infringement.

This has put Google in an awkward position when it comes to copyright issues. Both profiting from the infringement and needing to stop it for their own long term benefit.

What becomes clear quickly though is that the Adsense system is broken. Though nowhere near beyond repair, the system needs to be fixed before it can move past these issues.

Otherwise, Adsense risks being bogged down permanently by these matters until they impact both legitimate users and, most unfortunate of all for Google, advertisers.

The Problem

The problem with Adsense can be summed up in one sentence. Adsense is too quick to accept junk sites, too inefficient at detecting them and too slow to shut them down.

In short, Adsense makes it painfully easy for someone to profit from it, even with sites that flagrantly violate the Adsense terms and conditions.

To be certain, Adsense is not the only way for an illegitimate Web site to profit. Many have made as much or more using affiliate programs, especially for porn and gambling sites. But Adsense remains by far the most popular as it is both easy and very profitable.

However, most of Adsense’s problems can be easily avoided and can be done in a way that would not negatively impact legitimate Webmasters. All that would be required is for Google to put forth the effort to make them a reality.

Steps to Improvement

Any plan on Google’s part to improve the situation would most likely involve the following steps:

  • Delaying the First Check: Right now, if you join Adsense you will be eligible for a check after just one month. Most legitimate Web sites that are just starting up will need several months before earning the required $100 for a check. Sploggers, however, can do it easily. Instituting a 90-day wait period on the first check and actively reviewing the sites Adsense appears on before issuing it would be a major step. Existing sites with large volumes of traffic already have to go through a separate review process and those publishers, who could easily earn the required amount in a month, would be eligible for an expedited check.
  • Approving All Web Sites: I never requested permission to put ads on Plagiarism Today. The Adsense account for this site was an old one registered initially for a completely unrelated home page.The fact that this didn’t raise any red flags for Google is strange. The account had been almost completely idle for nearly a year and then saw a tremendous spike in traffic as it was applied here. This is all completely within Google’s terms and conditions for Adsense,, something that makes it easy for spammers to “bait and switch” Google into approving their accounts. Requiring all new domains, subdomains to be approved separately would eliminate most of the common spammer tricks, including setting up junk Blogspot accounts.
  • Block Payouts from Adsense-led Visitors: One of the golden Adsense scams is to create a “made for Adsense” (MFA) site and then buy cheap ads for it using Adsense. When the visitor arrives, they are then tricked into clicking a much more expensive ad on the spammer’s site. Google profits from two clicks and the spammer makes a tidy profit off of each click. Simply blocking payouts from visitors that results from an Adsense click would put a stop to this. While this would affect some legitimate traffic, Very few, I suspect, profit greatly from this on accident. (Note: This would, ideally, not include a visitor that came to a site via Adsense, spent time on the site and then clicked away a few minutes and a few pages later. Time and referrals would be key.)
  • End the DMCA Requirement:The DMCA (PDF) makes no mention of advertising networks. Yet, to file a complaint against an Adsense account that is violating your copyright, you have to send a DMCA notice. Worse still, it has to be faxed or mailed, something decidedly against the intent of the law. This frustrates and slows down people who are trying to report copyright issues to Adsense and allows spammers to profit longer. Other notifications of abuse do not require such steps and, given what is at stake, it doesn’t seem that copyright infringement should be treated any differently.
  • Respond to Complaints Quickly: Though major players, such as Robert Scoble, are able to get their Adsense complaints attended to quickly (even without a DMCA notice or even the correct party), most of us have to wait days before receiving any kind of reply, if one is forthcoming at all. Google’s slow and lackluster response time is legendary in this area. Sites that violate Adsense terms are often allowed to continue for weeks or months before being shut down. Worse still, with all of the metrics Adsense provides, Google should be able to track suspicious patterns in traffic volume, type and location. Though such features are rumored, there are still far too many spam bloggers using Adsense to assume that they are effective.

The sad thing is that these are steps Google should be doing now. With the possible exception of the delayed check, all of these steps are perfectly logical for any advertising network wanting to protect legitimate users, advertisers and others on the Web.

Instead, Google has trudged ahead with a haphazard abuse policy that has empowered countless plagiarists, spam bloggers and scam artists.

Everyone suffers and it is only a matter of time before advertisers catch on.

Conclusions

To be fair, the vast majority of Adsense users are, like myself, legitimate Webmasters trying to recover some money for hosting. The reason that Advertisers have not taken much notice is because A) The percentage of spammers in terms of overall clicks and exposure is relatively small and B) Click fraud is still a much larger issue.

However, as spamming continues to grow, Google is going to have to step up. Not only could it end up being a similar embarrassment to the click fraud lawsuit, but it also raises questions about profit Google is receiving from stolen content.

From all appearances, Google has enough copyright issues to worry about in other lines of business without worrying about Adsense.

Reasonable precautions seem very sensible, however, they are also unlikely.

Quite frankly, there is just too much money to be made.

As for me, there’s a good chance my experiment with Google Adsense could be ending soon. I am seriously considering other means of monetizing my efforts and am open for suggestions.

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article! Too slow to react, to fast to accept. Your latest article (full vs partial feeds) will bring the adsense problems to a head. Here is my thinking: full feeds will win out as people realise that feeds that are partial have little utility.

    As more and more people use full feeds, they will become aware of the plagiarisers and scrapers that steal their content and they'll contact Google. And Google will do nothing except request a DMCA fax. All the plagiariser need do is send in a counter notification and everything is back to what it was.

  2. Excellent article! Too slow to react, to fast to accept. Your latest article (full vs partial feeds) will bring the adsense problems to a head. Here is my thinking: full feeds will win out as people realise that feeds that are partial have little utility.

    As more and more people use full feeds, they will become aware of the plagiarisers and scrapers that steal their content and they’ll contact Google. And Google will do nothing except request a DMCA fax. All the plagiariser need do is send in a counter notification and everything is back to what it was.

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