Are Made-for-AdSense Sites Ethical?

The bane of the internet, aka Google AdSenseWith each passing month, it becomes increasingly clear that there are a zillion ways to make money on the ‘net. One of the most direct and sustainable ways to create a passive income stream online is to parasitically attach oneself to the Google teat and commence sucking. Plenty of armchair Seach Engine Optimizers (SEOs) have spammy, made-for-AdSense sites that act as Google breast pumps for niche topics. Once the milk starts flowing, it’s green, and it’s steady. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

If the only thing that really matters is making money, then I guess these “splogs” aren’t that big a deal. When you look at the relationship dynamics of everyone involved in this AdSense exploitation, though, things are quite different. In fact, I don’t really see how you can possibly claim that splogs developed solely for Google or Yahoo ad exploitation are ethical.

The dynamics of a made-for-AdSense splog

Here’s how these (para)sites work (god, I’m clever!):

  1. Armchair SEO (ArSE-O) picks out a popular keyword as his topical focus
  2. The ArSE-O then creates a splog around that keyword, pulling articles or search results straight from Google on the topic
    • One note here – the ArSE-O may even create the articles on his own, or else outsource them to India for a paltry sum that allows Mahesh to live in the nice part of Calcutta…Neither method of production affects the ethical status of the site, in my opinion.
  3. Next, the ArSE-O shamelessly slaps Google AdSense ads all over his splog in hopes that information-seeking schmucks from Google will stick around long enough to click on one.

Once the ArSE-O has his site up and running, he establishes parasitic relationships with three parties: advertisers, Google, and Google users. To give you a better idea, I went ahead and made up a visual to help explain things.

Graphical representation of the ArSE-O relationship structure

Notice how no arrows go from the ArSE-O to anything else. It’s all “take take take.” By reproducing articles or even creating simple content to help “sell” his ads, the ArSE-O has really offered the user nothing, although I know a few SEOs out there who’d like to cry foul over this statement…

In addition, the ArSE-O has knowingly created a site with the sole intention of exploiting the Google AdSense system. This exploitation is twofold, though – advertisers get screwed, and so does Google. Personally, I feel as though the search engine user is getting screwed here, too, because the splog was not created to solve users’ problems or answer their questions in the first place!

Ethical or unethical?

I’m opening up a philosophical can of worms here, but unidirectional money flows without informational or product reciprocation are unethical. Made-for-AdSense splogs don’t help anybody but the ArSE-O, and it’s this “every man for himself” mentality that is bloating out the web and rendering search results shady at best.

Extracting money from a particular economy without providing anything useful in return is wrong.

To me, the bottom line is more personal than the macro economical scenario posed above. At some point, you simply have to ask yourself:

Do I want to produce something of value, something that people will use, experience, and enjoy? Or do I want to be a leech, creating things that have no value and offer no personal gratification?

For more info, check out the Crazy AdSense Experiment page.

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27 comments… read them below or add one

David Krug May 25, 2006

This is like asking if High Gas Prices are Evil. Do we punish the Gas Station owner for providing the Gas (Google), or the Car Manufacturers, or the Users? Or the Oil Companies. It’s a big circle of condemnation.

The reality is Google is to blame.


Brian Clark May 25, 2006

It’s not a very inspired way to make a living, but whatever rings your bell…


David Krug May 26, 2006

Let me get this correct.

You think pages like:
Are evil?

And to think I made those in 33 seconds. And about 10 others. Now all I have to do is sit back and act like I’m not evil.

Man will I not be able to sleep tonight.


Sammy May 26, 2006

That’s bad “juju” David.

Not only are you admitting you’re a Splogger, but you’re using Chris’s work to help… shame on you.

Somehow, I doubt this comment will have any effect…


Chris P. May 26, 2006

Ah, he’s not really a splogger, he’s just being an ass :)


Sammy May 26, 2006

So you two know each other?

lol… guess I’m the ass! :)


Jessica Doyle May 27, 2006

Is it a question of ethics or is it a question about the main boss’s ethics?

Google will make more money from the arSEO’s than any of the small people who have enabled Adsense or what have you on their sites. If it’s legal then hey? Maybe it’s time to protest and make it illegal. Perhaps if it was illegal Google would pay more per click to the little people.

You are a great writer by the way and this sentence “Extracting money from a particular economy without providing anything useful in return is wrong.” just says it all.

Your crazy adsense experiment is pretty ingenious.

Here’s to hope :)


Chris P. May 27, 2006

Jessica, Google is paying out thousands and thousands of dollars to these ArSE-Os, and generally speaking, the advertisers aren’t getting any conversions from these “extracted clicks.”

Sooner or later, the advertisers will wise up and stop throwing their money at keywords. At least I hope that’s what happens :)

Also, just for the record, I am not responsible for the “Crazy AdSense Experiment” – it was just an excellent link that I came across a couple of days ago.


Ben Wilks June 2, 2006

What’s so wrong with targeted traffic? These MFA sites target the highest converting long tail. It’s better traffic for the advertisers and easier to obtain for the button pusher.

If Google had such a problem they would be targeting them far harder. But they have a vested interest.

It’s Win Win Win – must be ethical.


Peter June 3, 2006

Yes, I agree with Ben here. It’s not true that “advertisers get screwed”…they are not. People are searching for their terms, and their ads are being shown.

The only party that may be screwed are google users – but it is so critical? I am not finding much MFA sites during my regular searches.


Wes June 4, 2006

Most business practices are unethical, screwing each other and the customer.


Wes June 4, 2006

…and their employees.


Andy H June 5, 2006

Speaking as an advertiser, MFA sites can send very high converting traffic.

How am I as an advertiser getting screwed again?

You’re right about one thing — the MFA sites provide a poor user experience. But calling that “unethical” is a bit silly.


Andy H June 5, 2006

> generally speaking, the advertisers aren’t getting any conversions from these “extracted clicks.”

You better check your facts on that one, Pearson :-)


ranon June 9, 2006

The link provided above said that it earned $1 for the first day.

I would like to find out if the earnings continued for more time or petered out.


Brian June 16, 2006

I don’t remember seeing this in google listings. I’ve seen people advertise that they are selling adsence sites though.


Jeff Forest June 17, 2006

Could somebody perhaps explain the mechanics of the thing to me? Says here that you are supposed to start an Adwords campaign to get people in… and then what, after that you let them go back out again via Adsense? Seems to me that there had better be a good price differential here (and how exactly do you ensure that?), or else you are just going to get killed!


Mike July 1, 2006


The mechanics of the MFA site is to create a website with Adsense ads that pay $1-$3 if clicked. Then set up an Adwords campaign on the desired keywords but bid low, like $0.05-$0.10. Maybe 20 people click on your Adwords ad in a day ($1.00-$2.00) and 5 to 10 of those people click on an ad on your MFA site ($5-$30).

Some people never click ads. Some people always click ads. MFAs are targeting the masses who don’t know how to tune out ads.


David Beckwith August 1, 2006

Sploggers are serving a purpose in our society. They act as catalysts. Biological life would be as dynamic as watching the earth’s crust shift if it weren’t for protein catalysts that hasten chemical reactions by huge orders of magnitude. Catalysts keeps our bodies alive. Similarly sploggers act as catalysts to connect buyers and sellers. To say that they are not contributing to the economy is a failure of imagination. The reason they exist is precisely because our economy needs them. If it wasn’t for them, people wouldn’t be buying as much stuff online, the internet economy would have developed much slower, investors would not have put as much money into developing websites and consequently you and I, the geeks of the world, would not have a job if it weren’t for sploggers causing tons of hapless consumer dollars to be poured through internet channels to buy Jenny Craig weight loss junk.


Murray August 2, 2006

Congratulations Chris on highlighting an issue which Google is just going to have to address. I went to an article site today on debt consolidation and EVERY Google advertisment was for another article site.

Ok, so much of business may be unethical and in the end it comes down to personal choice. As for me however, after starting to go down this track and having set up article sites, and making some money from them, I am pulling out of this scam.


Tim S November 26, 2006

While late responding to this, I thought it would be worth noting the following:

(i) Often these made for AdSense sites have URLs or domain names that are topically relevant (e.g., that capture direct navigation or type-in traffic (i.e., web traffic that does not use search engines but instead simply types in the words of interest followed by .com in the web browser), which some analysts have indicated represents 15% of all internet traffic. The sites themselves usually have a number of key words on them which are thematically related to the URL, thus resulting in relevant Google advertising being placed on the sites. For those webconsumers who do not use search engines, the site serves as a useful portal for finding topically related advertisers that may be able to provide the specific service or product they are looking for. Without sites like these, the advertisers would be SOL when it comes to direct navigation traffic.

(ii) In a perfect world, Google’s search engine spiders would always rank at the top end of its search results the most content laden sites related to the topic being searched. This simply does not occur. Moreover, more often than not, the entities advertising do not appear at the top of the search engine results for the products or services they offer. Websites made for Google Adsense sometimes do. If the site URL and keywords are geared to the product or service being sold by the advertiser and the website attracts a fair amount of traffic through natural search or other means (such as direct navigation traffic), this is actually providing a service to the advertiser as his/her business now has another topically-related storefront that it would otherwise not have.

(iii) What constitutes a poor user experience is highly subjective. Some could argue that a poor user experience results from visiting a website that does not offer the consumer many choices and/or whose content is full of dribble and does not immediately get to the point. These Google Adsense sites effectively deal with this issue — they get right to the point by serving as an advertising portal and providing thematically related ads for consumers to select from.


Cata January 21, 2007

Cool, I replied and now it’s deleted. What kind of dialogue is this anyway? Ever heard of constructive criticism?


Jim July 27, 2007

No mater what the main purpose the site was built for: to make money (probably 80% of websites on the web), or to benefit users gratifications, it will always come down to what the user of the site thinks and does. Here are some of the obvious:

1. He/she knows they are ads and will not click on them
2. He/she does not know they are ads and will generally click, because they are interested in what the ad has to offer.
3. He/she clicks on them just to make the site owner money (fraud).
4. He/she knows they are ads, but are truly interested what the advertiser has to offer, and will click.


Harry December 3, 2007

The MFA system exists because Google lives from it and because people are stupid enough to click these ads. Of course I do not like any parked pages or MFA pages, but I (almost) never click Google ads, so it only bothers me when I find MFA pages directly in Google’s search results. I do not really care about Google ads shown, I actually cannot see them. Anyway I understand that the advertisers who pay Google are screwed, because they pay for nothing…


Sean June 18, 2009

Tim S has it right. To say these sites can’t add value is short-sighted.

Let’s say you’re looking for a somewhat obscure product like left-handed widgets. Chances are, not a lot of people are out there devoting compelling, soul-wrenching content to left-handed widgets, nor would you want to read it if they were. You just want to buy some left-handed widgets. In truth, you WANT to see ads. In the old days, you’d pick up a phone book, which consists of nothing but categorized paid ads. Now you hit Google.

Up on your search results page comes You click, see some thin content, and then what you really want: ads for companies selling blue widgets. You click and find what you’re looking for.

The site owner wins: he gets paid for the click
Google wins: they get paid for the click (and more than the site owner)
The advertiser wins: he gets highly targeted traffic with a high conversion rate.
The searcher wins: He finds what he was looking for quickly.

What the heck is the problem?


Sean June 18, 2009

Harry, you are dead wrong, by the way, that the advertisers pay for nothing. So-called mfa sites that actually generate natural search traffic provide just about the best-converting clicks for advertisers out there. Advertisers win big from these sites.

Your point is more valid for arbitrage sites, where the traffic is not all that highly targeted.


ARSE SEO December 16, 2010

If the writer creates his own articles then you have no argument. Think Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins in popular writer mode – are they ARSEy? Is anything produced by commercial TV channels ARSEy? Come on! Get off your high horse!


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