The Economics of Spam Blogging

“How much do spam bloggers make?”

Very few questions come up more regularly that that one. Pretty much everyone recognizes spam bloggers, especially scrapers, as scum of the earth. However, most also realize they have to have at least some incentive to start up their elaborate, but legally dubious, operations.

The honest answer is two fold: First, no one really knows. Other than the spam bloggers themselves, no one really knows how much they make, how much of it is profit and how much time they spend on their “businesses”.

The second answer is that it varies wildly. Most spam bloggers seem to flame out almost immediately, slipping into one of the many pitfalls of the industry and walking away before drawing a single check.

However, with some quick math and rough guesses, we can quickly begin to understand the draw to spam blogging. Because, even with modest numbers, there is the potential to make a lot of money.

Meet The Spammer

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to look at the imaginary spam network for a fictional spammer named Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith has been creating spam blogs for a few months now and has amassed a network of about 10,000 spam blogs over a variety of sites. He has experimented with blogspot.com spam, but has instead decided to build his own network from the ground up, using a variety of low-cost and free accounts.

The network works off a mixture of scraped content and computer generated material. Money is earned directly by the placement of ads around the spam blogs, generally taking advantage of Google Adsense but also experimenting with other providers.

There is a certain amount of attrition in the network, some 500 of his splogs are shut down every day but he is able to replace them by generating more. Mr. Smith spends most of his time finding new hosting, buying new domains, setting up his comment/forum spam blasts and making sure that everything is running smoothly. He is easily able to keep up with the attrition and maintains his network at about the 10,000 spam blogs described above.

??? -> Profit

Though Mr. Smith has 10,000 blogs with countless pages, traffic is still very modest. Since he targeted “long tail” keywords that are low traffic but also high-paying and low-competition, traffic to his network is not what one would call impressive.

Still, the ads are placed prominently, sometimes even appearing to be the content itself. This keeps click-through rates relatively high and money flowing into the pocket of Mr. Smith.

Assuming an average of about 50 cents per click, each spam blog only needs to generate one click per month to make the spammer a total of $60,000 a year. More than enough to make a decent living.

Bear in mind that this is only an average and that nine blogs can fail completely so long as the tenth draws a modest ten clicks in a single month, roughly one every three days.

Then, when you factor in that some keywords generate much higher per-click rates, sometimes well over five dollars a click, it becomes clear that it’s possible to make much, much more.

Worse still, 10,000 spam blogs is a network of a very modest size. It is entirely possible, and even proved, that the networks can get up to well over 100,000 blogs in size, some have even theorized into the millions.

The size of the network is only limited by the effectiveness of the software and the skill of the spammer. A skilled spammer that can find bullet-proof hosting and use the best splogging software can create a network of almost limitless size.

It seems like a license to print money and, for some, it almost is.

The Problem

However, before everyone abandons the straight and narrow for the world of spam blogging, it is important to note that only a handful of people ever make any money at splogging.

Most, like T3Blogs, earn little or nothing at all. There are simply too many pitfalls to navigate. Hosting gets cut, Adsense accounts get closed, spam blogs get shut down, entire networks get banned from the search engines and, when appropriate, copyright activists close down spam operations.

The vast majority of spam bloggers fall flat on their face before they ever get started. With such falls from grace usually comes a great deal of personal shame, a ruined reputation and missed opportunities to work with legitimate promoters. In short, if one turns to the “dark side” and fails, it’s very difficult to go back.

Also, though it is possible to make a fair amount of money by spamming, it’s also possible to make even more without resorting to spam (though other questionable tactics may be used from time to time). There are many legitimate sites, including blogs, and new businesses making more money than any spam blogger out there.

The appeal of spam blogging is that, supposedly, it is an easy way to generate a good amount of money. It may not be the fastest way to become a billionaire, but it might be the easiest way to pay all of the bills without getting a “real” job.

Of course, the life of a spammer is hardly a passive one. As discussed earlier, there is the process of finding new hosting, maintaining the network, creating ad accounts, monitoring clicks, keeping up on search engine shifts and exploring new tactics. Though the search engines have not invested fully in stopping spam, it is still an active war and one can not sit for long.

Some have even hired cheap labor to enter captchas for them, others have attempted to get others to do so for free.

These are all things that take time and cause headaches for spammers. It’s also why the vast majority of splogs are created by a handful of spammers. The black-hat SEO community is both small and very tight-knit, at least at the highest ranks.

The odds of someone else breaking into the scene and becoming a major player, no matter how amoral they are, is slim.

In that regard, spam blogging is no different than any other established business. The odds of failure greatly outstrip the odds of success. The only difference is that the potential rewards can be gained via other means, without many of the risks that would come with them.

Conclusions

There’s a lot of money to be made in splogging, that much is certain. I have no doubt that, between the different spammers out there, several million dollars trade hands.

However, in the big scheme of the Web, it’s a small percentage of the money. Yet, these spam blogs account for over half of all pings sent out. This imbalance can make spam blogging appear more popular and more effective than it really is.

That appearance, in turn, draws new people into the profession, the vast majority of whom just wind up with a black mark on the reputation and a painful lesson learned. I have had many conversations with failed sploggers, but never have I talked at length with a successful one.

Yes, some spam bloggers do make great livings off of being spammers. But odds are the person scraping your content is not one of the elite. Not only have the high-end spam bloggers largely gotten away from scraping for various reason, but also because they’ve become such successes specifically by not getting caught.

Still, even if they are not “professionals” making large volumes of cash from their spamming, it is worth the time to shut them down. Even amateurs using easy-to-obtain software can create networks of hundreds of thousands of spam blogs and can do a great deal of damage to both search engine ranking and reputation of legitimate Webmasters.

Furthermore, by stopping them early, one can prevent them from becoming one of the major players later. That alone should be reason enough to take action.

Tags: Content Theft, Copyright, Copyright Infringement, Copyright Law, DMCA, Plagiarism, RSS, Scraping, Search Engine, SEO, Spam, Splogging, Splogs

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