Article Marketing: Death By Spam?

Many authors and experts, both established and new, use article marketing in order to promote themselves and their sites.

The idea itself is pretty simple. You write a series of relatively short articles, put them out there for anyone to use and, when other sites republish them they’ll include both your name and a link back to your site.

The idea has been around since well before the Internet, popular among authors and journalists seeking bylines, and it is a free, easy way to get one’s name out there. Also, on the Web, it can work to build traffic, earn backlinks and, in some cases, improve search engine ranking.

However, this kind of marketing also has an underside to it. Spammers have gotten ahold of the system and are abusing the content provided them. Authors, as they’ve become more aware of this problem, have found that the sites that host and promote their content can do nothing to help them.

Though article marketing has always been something of a gamble, the purveyors of junk have made it riskier than it ever was before.

The Concerns Over Article Marketing

The problem with article marketing is that, once you post your work for others to use, you have little control over who uses it.

For example, though the publisher TOS for Ezine Articles, one of the largest free article directories, bans the use of spamming and limites the publisher to using only 25 articles from the site per year per domain, the author terms of service says that “the enforcement of our terms of service for publishers is at your risk and cost and not ours.”

In addition to putting the burden to keep publishers in line on the authors, the author terms of use also says that your submission “gives unconditional permission for your articles to be reprinted in other ezines, websites and print publication.”

What this means is that, when you submit your article to Ezine Articles, or almost any other directory like it, your article is put out there with only a few restrictions on reuse. If any of those requirements are not met, it is up to the author to put a stop it to it.

This can result in both a great strain on time and energy as the author has to monitor reuse of their content and enforce relaxed rules by coming down on sites that are unlikely to drive significant amounts of traffic.

I Don’t Want My Name There

As PT reader and published author Maria Langer found when she experimented with article marketing at Ezine Articles, there’s a lot of places that you don’t want your content and your name to appear.

When she submitted several articles to the service, they quickly began to appear on spam sites with words such as “hot sex” and “nurse fetish”. Though the sites contained no actual pornography, she shuddered to think of her name and her work being associated with such sites.

When she contacted her Ezine Articles to raise her concerns, they, as per their terms of service, told her that it was her responsibility to request removal of the work.

In the end, she simply deleted her works from the service and quit using the site.

A Broad Trend

Others have reported on the same problem. Yaro Starak reported that his experiments in article marketing resulted in mostly backlinks from spam blogs.

Scott Allen recently uncovered an entire spam blog network based upon copying articles from article directories and removing attribution, thus violating the publisher terms for those sites.

Finally, one admitted blackhat has crafted a WordPress plugin that is designed to extend the original entry by a set number of words, also a violation of the publisher terms of service at most sites, in order to help the spam site avoid duplicate content penalties and getting caught in Google’s filters.

When searching the Web for article marketing information, it is hard to find marketers who haven’t had at least some issues or concerns with spam. However, many of them have also had a great deal of success with it and swear by it.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness or article marketing, at least in some cases, has drawn spammers to attack it from the other angle, filing junk articles in hopes of getting precious backlinks and recognition.

Pseudo Experts and Junk Articles

Getting content and placing ads is only half of the spammer equation. At some point, the content has to get indexed and linked to to gain enough search engine ground to be worthwhile. Getting backlinks is the easiest day to do that and article marketing, for better or worse, is one of the best ways to do that.

This results in spammers submitting junk articles to article sites in hopes of either getting picked up by naive human editors or by their fellow spammers.

The problem is bad enough that, at the end of last year, Ezine Articles edited their promotional material to remove benefits that might appeal to such “vomit” content producers.

Sadly, this industry has long attracted the attention of black hats who shoot out either computer-generated articles or simply plagiarize content from other sites. Though most major article directories have guidelines and do a decent job filtering out obviously unoriginal content, some of the less ethical ones do not. That makes it important to still be weary about these issues.

Your best bet, if you are going to use article marketing or take advantage of content offered that way, is to take a few precautions.

Protect Yourself

If you decide that article marketing is a good step for you, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Read the Terms: Understand what you’re getting in to before you submit. Read the fine print and decide if it is right for you and your content.
  2. Don’t Submit Articles Already Online: If an article is already on your site, it’s best to not submit it. Not only could it be confused as being a plagiarism but it could also result in duplicate content issues.
  3. Use Google Alerts: Track your articles with Google Alerts to see where and how they are used. This will also let you follow up on any violation of your site’s terms.
  4. Use Creative Commons: If you don’t need to have a site like Ezine Articles shooting your articles out there, use Creative Commons or another licensing scheme to ensure that you get maximum control over the terms your work can be used under.
  5. Be Careful Where You Link: Remember, these articles can and will appear just about anywhere on the Web. While that is great for backlinks, you don’t get to easily choose who you associate with. My advice is to not have your articles link to a site that could be really harmed by an association with adult content, spam-like sites or other offensive material. The same goes for your name. It might be wise to use a pen name on submitted articles just in case.

If you’re looking at using free articles from one of these sites, I also recommend these steps:

  1. Read The Terms: The same as authors need to read the terms, so do you. Learn what is expected of you and where you can post the content. Follow them both in letter and in spirit.
  2. Check for Plagiarism: Even if you just use Mahalo’s plagiarism tool, it is important to check each work for plagiarism. Make sure all references for the work link back to the article site and the same author.
  3. Work With Authors: If an author has a complaint about your use of an article, it’s probably best to work with them, even if you think your use is within the bounds of the TOS. There is no sense in burning bridges or letting storms brew.

Conclusions

Of all of the articles I have written, this has been one of the most difficult to research. Nearly every search I performed on this topic didn’t give me information about the issue at hand, but rather, links to the article directories I was looking into and to sites that were using content from them.

I must have looked at several dozen pages that were reusing content from the various directories. However all of them, save one or two, were almost certainly spam.

However, none of this should be taken as a criticism of the various article sites. Given the high number of articles they have and the nature of the Web, they would struggle to play any kind of enforcement role.

These sites, for the most part, are good people trying to make an honest living.

That being said, it is a criticism of the whole industry and a major problem within it. Unfortunately, as spammers grown in number and reach, their appetite for easy to access and relatively safe content will only grow. They will likely make up a higher and higher percentage of publishers at article directories.

There is still, undoubtedly, some good marketing to be done through free articles, but it is getting harder due not only to spammers, but increased competition and other sources of legal content.

In the end, whether or not article marketing is right for you is a personal one. Many great authors fall on both sides of the fence.

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