Google Shutters MFA Accounts

In a move that is likely to be a blow for spammers and scrapers, Google recently started closing Adsense accounts for having an “unfit business model” and has sent letters to many high-value Adsense members, some earning $70,000 or more per month.

The initial discussion about the closings centered around the practice of Adsense Arbitrage, buying cheap keywords through Adwords and promoting ads on higher-paying ones, but as more information has come to light, it appears that Google is instead targeting low-quality made for Adsense (MFA) sites.

If this move turns out to be true and effective, it would be great news for legitimate Webmasters, both those using Adsense and not. MFA sites tend to be some of the worst scrapers, using the text to target the ads that display on their site, and they also drive down the prices of ads across the network, meaning their departure could, theoretically, mean more money for legitimate Adsense users.

But as damaging as this likely is to spammers and scrapers, it likely won’t be a deathblow Sadly, the practice will live on and even Google doesn’t seem to be able to stop it.

What is Going On?

Over the past few days, several Adsense users have received letters saying that their account will be closed on June 1st. The letters inform them that they will be able to keep the money the have earned and will have their accounts paid out, but that they will no longer be able to use Adsense after that date.

Though Google’s non-disclosure agreement has prohibited much information from being leaked about the letters, the words “unfit business model” have been cited repeatedly as the reason for the deletion.

Initially, conversation focused on the idea of Adsense arbitrage. Arbitrage, which literally means “taking advantage of price differentials between two markets” usually, on Adsense, involves buying cheap keyword clicks through Adwords, often for a penny per click, and then running more valuable ads on the site. This can be done legitimately, by buying traffic for a blog or other site, or in a more underhanded way by buying traffic for a spam blog, an MFA site or another junk landing page.

By all accounts, Google’s letters seem to be targeted at the latter kind of arbitrage sites. These sites tend to be very spammy in nature, either containing no content, scraped feeds or computer generated text.

It would seem that this is a major blow to scrapers. With a large number of scrapers and spammers having their Adsense accounts closed down, there’s a lot of reason to celebrate. However, any celebration would be, to say the least, premature.

Shortcomings and Misgivings

Though it is great to see some of Adsense’s dirtiest players get their accounts closed, calling this a major victory against either spam or scraping is a major leap, there are several problems that prevent that optimistic prediction from coming true.

  1. Focus on Arbitrage: Though the act of arbitrage itself is not the focus of this offensive, all of the people who have received letters seem to have been engaging in it. Since most scraping and spamming is done for search engine optimization purposes, it is unlikely that many of them are also buying traffic.
  2. Availability of Other Networks: Adsense is not the only game in town by any stretch. There are many other ad networks that can pick up the slack. Some reportedly have higher payouts than Adsense.
  3. The “Nice” Approach: Since it is debatable whether or not the sites did anything that directly violated Adsense’s TOS, Google has shown these sites the door in the nicest way possible,giving them plenty of warning and allowing them to keep all of their earnings. Not exactly a harsh punishment.
  4. An Effective Surrender: Google has tried several times in the past to push these MFA sites out by changing their algorithm and making the practice unprofitable. Apparently, those methods failed. Though Google is doing the right thing by kicking these sites out of Adsense, it goes to show that the technique is profitable.
  5. Maintenance: Though Google is doing a good thing right now and is removing some major Adsense users, it remains to be seen if they will be able to continue this new rule into the future. Entry into Adsense is notoriously easy and it is unlikely that they will be able to stop new MFA sites as they come in. Hopefully though, this closure will serve as a deterrent.

The end result of all of these closures, in the long run, will probably be more of the same. Though hopefully this is part of a new commitment from Google on this issue, it will have to be part of an ongoing offensive before it has any real effect.

Conclusions

Though I am very happy to see Google taking steps such as these, I’m going to remain skeptical of them until I see what Google does over the long haul. Google is a very dubious ally in the fight against scraping and spamming. They have given hosting to spammers through Blogspot, revene through Adsense and exposure through their search engine and Adwords. Their hand is, literally, in every element of the spammer’s business model.

The problem is that this is a one-time act targeted at a small group of individuals on just one front of an ongoing war. For this to have any lasting impact, Google is going to have to keep up and broaden the pressure. They have been hesitant to do so up to this point and I see little reason to think of this as a major change.

What this is, in view of the larger picture, is a good first step. If it truly is just a first step, then it could easily grow into something wonderful. However, by itself, it is barely a dent in the armor of the spammers and scrapers.

Only Google can decide what good will come of this and that will be determined by their commitment to fight spammers, wherever they might be, and their willingness to make sacrifices to help clean up the Web.

This might be the ultimate test of their “Don’t Be Evil” slogan. Hopefully they can pass it.

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