I'm hopeful that Malcolm Gladwell is right. In The Tipping Point Gladwell talks about how certain trends began or changed once the affecting factors in society reached a point that the previous way of doing things could no longer be sustained. I'm hoping to see a tipping point come to the Internet's vast amount of free, crappy content.

I'd love nothing more to see a backlash over the vast amounts of free crap available online and the sites that provide it. Searchers and internet users would begin to demand quality and search engines wouldn't reward those sites with the greatest amounts of crap over those with smaller amounts of quality content.

I love that the Internet is free and there is tons of free content available at my finger tips. Sites such Search Engine Guide provide a lot of free content to their readers and make their money by selling ad space. The idea is this: the higher quality of content, the more traffic the site will receive, the more visitors will click on ads, the more ad space can be sold for, the more money can be made.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way.

Enter MFA websites.

MFA stands for Made for AdSense. MFA sites are developed for the sole purpose of getting people to click on the Google AdSense ads that reside next to the content on each page.

More often than not, the content on MFA sites has little value to the visitor, but enough of it is generated to get lots of pages indexed by the search engines. The search engines rank this content in the search results for hundreds, if not thousands of low-competition but high "cost" keyword phrases. When the visitors click through these pages from the search results, they quickly leave, clicking an AdSense link. The site owner gets paid a commission for the click.

On a small scale each click doesn't amount to much. But multiply that by hundreds or thousands of keywords that advertisers are willing to pay good money to run pay-per-click ads for, then it really starts to add up.

Where MFA goes wrong is that the worse the content is, the more likely the visitor will click away using the ads. The visitor just paid the crappy site money for being crappy. The owner of the crappy site is happy and Google is happy because they delivered you to the crappy site and you paid them back by click on an ad. Cha-ching!

Making the web a better bigger place

As an SEO that works for clients, I'm in the business of making websites better. (This is my chance to link to my series on Destination Search Engine Marketing so I won't pass that up.) My goal is to help our clients deserve top search engine rankings, not manipulate the algorithm to get there undeservedly. Because of that, the whole MFA concept is a difficult one for me to swallow.

I understand the allure, and I can build them myself, but at the same time I'm hoping that as a whole, the success of the MFA concept fails. I want the internet to be a better place, not a place dominated by those who can put up the largest amount of junk content the quickest.

There is no better (or worse?) example of this than a company called Demand Media. If you haven't run across some of their content, you will soon by the looks of things. Wired has a very interesting and lengthy piece on Demand Media's ability to algorithmically overload the internet with sub-par content for pennies while they rake in millions of dollars through ads. Aaron Wall calls it Information Pollution, and rightly so.

In a way I'm impressed with the ingenuity of Demand Media's ability to algorithmically determine what content the internet is lacking that needs to be filled. Though they don't fill the information gaps as much as they fill the gaps that are likely to provide the most profit. But still, it's no less impressive.

Where I start to have problems is when quality is sacrificed for quantity. According the the Wired article, Demand cut loose their quality control editors because it's cheaper without them. Demand can offer a small chunk of cash to any freelancer that wants to take a "job". The freelancer creates the needed content, uploads it, then goes on to repeat the process. No quality control, no verification, no oversight.

Google logo with nooseIt's the death of the content professional

It's also the death of quality. Freelancers grab as many jobs as possible and pump out the information quickly with very little time, care or effort into being thorough or even accurate.

Sites like Demand Media compete with other sites that are putting more time and effort into their articles, but are being overrun. Demand is growing so big that they can dominate search results simply by virtue of their size. And what helps them make money? The fact that the articles produced are sub-par. Visitors come and then leave often looking for something better.

If your content is good the visitors have less reason to click the AdSense ads. For the most part the visitor has found what they want and are satisfied. That's not to say that only bad content gets ad clicks, it's not, but the more lackluster the content, the AdSense ads provide a way to something more promising.

And who get's paid every time an AdSense ad is clicked? The site running the ads gets a percentage, but the lion's share go to Google.

Because Google controls 70+% of the natural search results and the ads on the side, they essentially have a vested interest in helping companies like Demand Media succeed. The more MFA content that comes up in the search results, the more Google gets paid.

How low can we go?

Obviously Google can only allow this to go so far. They have to continue to provide better results than the competition, but there are enough long-tail phrases to go around. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Google is deliberately pushing MFA content above other content, I'm just merely pointing out that they profit greatly from it and ultimately it's in their best interested not to fix it too much. If they replace the MFA content with another site's superior content in the search results, Google's revenue drops, because fewer ads get clicked.

Some could make the argument that Google is providing the information people want through the paid ads. You just have to go through the junk content to get to it. But then if the ads were the superior content, the user would be better off if those sites were ranking in the natural results in the first place.

I don't blame the searcher for looking for free stuff. But free content doesn't have to be synonymous with crap content. I'm hoping that we'll soon see a tipping point where people will no longer settle for junk, even if it is free. That the tide will turn and users will demand more than hastily written, ill-informed articles and videos and turn their back on those sources. Then, in some ways they already have turned their back on them. They do it by clicking the ads.

But until then, it pays to disappoint.


January 12, 2010





Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(23)

MFA sites have been around for a long time, and many people have complained loudly, but Google has not yet done anything about them. I doubt they ever will. I certainly doubt they will for something like Demand Media. While Demand doesn't put out the highest quality of content, imo, it's still a universe of quality above what I think of as truly MFA. True MFA sites are far far worse in quality, but unless they are completely blank pages with nothing but ads on them (and there are plenty of those), they aren't kicked out. And even the blank ones stick around unless someone reports them. (Even then, they may not get kicked).

While I love a good MFA bashing any day of the week, I wouldn't put Demand into the same category. No, they aren't superior in quality but they are a far sight better than the MFAs that have been around for a long long long time. Should they rank well? eh..maybe not. But if we're going to spend (or more likely, waste) time moaning about MFAs, let's at least try to get rid of the true garbage products (MFA) before attacking the dollar store products (Demand). One is far worse than the other, imo.

There's a new book out called "Shopcraft as Soulcraft" where the author, Matthew Crawford explains his job at Ziff Communications where he wrote summaries of scientific articles. Ziff then sold the indexes. It has a great discussion about how they had to meet quotas for these excerpts and avoid worrying about their accuracy. Highly recommended and relevant to your discussion here.

"Meeting his quota required him to actively suppress his inclination to think or reflect on what he was reading. The pace of work also required him to suppress any sense of responsibility to the author of the article or to the eventual users “who might naively suppose that his abstract reflected contents of the article.” He came to see that the job required both dumbing down and moral re-education. " wrote Steve Denning in a review.

Scott,

There has always been a battle of speed vs. quality, we see it in the fast food industry and other places. But it seems that online the bar for quality gets lower and lower because speed can keep being improved. And as long as the search engines put such a high value on volume it'll largely be a losing battle.

This is just a bump on a very, very long road. As more brand-level advertising dollars move towards the internet, the hierarchy will change. Content isn't going to become *less* valuable, and as it increases in value it will be easier to justify a greater investment in content generation. At some point, these low-cost content schemes will cease to be competitive.

I think that this is a symptom of a greater concern: Internet advertising is stuck in this weird place where print, radio, and TV are holding it back. Most traditional media can't make a profit, yet they continue to exist. I would liken this to a manufacturer of consumer goods "dumping" product at prices that are below-cost in order to try and put a competitor out of business. Instead of worrying about MFA sites, we should ask the FTC to investigate traditional "mass" media for selling advertising at a loss...it's keeping our industry from growing. Once these money-losing traditional competitors are out of the picture, the Internet's economy becomes much more rational.

Stoney, I see your point and feel sorry for all those who look for the best information possible on a subject through search engines and don't find it so easily.

I think the point is that Google and other search engines are just the machines that try to provide the most relevant results. This is something that their algorithms may find out, but they are incapable of pinpointing the best results that could be the most reliable ones.

It just reminds me of the translation machines. They are pieces of crap too. Why? Because they may find the relevant equivalents, but not the very best ones for you. It's the recognizing power of our minds and the taste of the readers that prefers some suggested solution to be used in particular situations. How can we expect a search engines to handle this for us automatically? Well, I have no answer for this.

Rahman, good point, but we have to remember the search engines are more than just translators. They put VALUES on different things to help them figure out what is relevant. In many cases, the values are simply on the wrong thing.

I agree with you that translators are different from search engines, but relevancy doesn't always mean the best result. Well, you may be able to help me in this regard:

Let's imagine one of those MFA websites uses lots of PLR websites all focused on a series of keywords and written around a certain topic in a particular niche. Then, the webmaster spends some time or money to build some relevant backlinks to the certain landing pages at this site. This is done with perseverance and on a regular and consistent basis.

Don't you think that search engines will give such a site high rankings for some of its keywords sooner or later? Well, if you agree, would you think the results are always the best? I don't think so. I'd like to have your ideas on this so that I can get to some clear understanding of your point and the functionality of search engines.

I appreciate your response in advance.

Stoney, I hear what you are saying but disagree that this is the death of quality.

If I continuously search for something on Google (or any of the SE's) and get taken to a site that I immediately have to click on an Ad to get what I was really after then that is not a good experience. I will either adjust the way I search, or I will chose a new search provider (the first is an inconvenience to me, the second is more than an inconvenience for my SE of choice).

Like most things in life people will tolerate a certain level of crap (there are actually people that consume this stuff!), but eventually things will get cleaned up because the masses will not tolerate it. If it takes someone like Demand to push the 'crapometer' into red then maybe what we are starting to see is not he death of quality but the death of crap!

Gordon, that is exactly what I'm hoping for, which is why I opened the article as I did. Right now too many people don't even get that the search results are crap. But hopefully the tipping point will be reached.

Rehman, search engines will always be manipulated, and inevitably there will always be some junk in the search results. My beef isn't that site's like Demand Media are filling in some of the gaps, but that the nature of putting out content as quickly as possible regardless of quality, tends to push out those that are taking the time to develop quality content. Another book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, talks about how those that the the advantage of having the most opportunity achieve the best. While in life, getting good by ensuring you practice more than everybody else is a good thing. On the internet though those with the most content are pushed to the top of the most rankings. They gain power by getting in the search results, being first, getting more money and that gives them the advantage to get more power by getting in the search results, being first, etc. They are taking advantage of the system (thanks to Google) and continuing to be sub-par while pushing out those that really want to do somethign right.

So, basically we agree on the fact that search engines are being easily manipulated. And we have to regulate our expectation.

Anyway, thanks for clarifying your point. I appreciate it.

Right now too many people don't even get that the search results are crap. I guess this is all based on what people are using the Internet for. If it's for information, I'm standing in line right behind you asking for more quality. Google's gotta get it together.

If it's for shopping, not so much. I know I'm in a niche market and would love to rank better with more generalized keywords, but I purposely tend to look at results 21-40 when I am shopping for anything just to make sure I'm not missing anything. (Call me nostalgic...) I'm not. I still get to sites that are organized poorly, are hard to shop from, look like they are a third-grader's "special summer project," or are company-instead-of-customer-centered.

Love your articles--SEW is the only email from my SEO subscriptions I click right through when I get them in my inbox. I've relied the most on it for education in my continual SEO self-training.

So it's Google's fault that people click on useless ads rather than hitting the back button to click on a different and hopefully better result? Or did I miss your point?

I have to agree with @Gordon S in terms of this not being the death of quality. For me personally, I can't stand sites that are adsense heavy. The way these ads are set up definitely takes away from the content of the site which immediately suggests to me that the content is probably not worth staying around for. For this reason, I don't run ads on my blog because I want people to be able to appreciate the content. (Whether my content is good or not is a different story altogether :)) In business everyone has their personal preference for how they make money. Some choose to make money by creating real value and other try and make money through techniques and ploys that are always short term propositions at best and are never truly admired by the general public. Keep up the good work.

Tim, Considering that Google ranked the crap content and that it's often time's Google ads that people click on, then yes, Google is culpable here. Why would the user go back to Google when the first result they clicked into didn't meet their needs? I'm not saying that the user is innocent either, but the user isn't the one manipulating the system. In this case, to a degree, Google is and is allowing the system to be manipulated.

Stoney - You nailed it. It's why I've never taken what I know and built MFA sites. It's why I don't do "article marketing", it's why I didn't create 200 "web directories". I watched all these things and knew none of them added to the web experience, they got in the way of it. Just think about how many new MFA pages or new articles there will be one month from today about a topic like, say, refinancing your mortgage, or buying the best life insurance. It's absurd. I admit that there are some sites that are of high caliber that need some content creation in order to help. But most sites are the very opposite. They have nothing, provide nothing, offer nothing. So they have to resort to whatever tactics will help, which is none of them. I bet for every million new web pages created, 999,999 are pure crap.

-Eric

Stoney:

Thanks for posting my comment and for replying to me. As I read the Daniel Roth article that you link to, it seems that Demand is exploiting the nature of search through the use of its algorithm and that, in the case of YouTube, at least, Google is encouraging it to earn some $$ for themselves. In that respect, I did miss your point.

I guess what I wonder is, how does this get fixed? If Google changes how they rank, won't Demand just change their own algorithm? Could Google fix it even if they wanted to?

Tim

Tim, There are a couple of ways this can be fixed. First, Google can look for ways to adjust the algorithm so quality trumps volume. Thats what they are supposed to want and in general I think it's what Google tries to provide. But for things to really change, the user has to rebel against this. They have to be smart enough to stop clicking ads on junk sites and take more time to find quality results over what shows up at the top. Not sure how likely either of those are to happen.

Honestly, I think you are whining. Leaving out your example of Demand media, there are thousands of small time marketers like myself who make a nice coin producing laser targeted content sites and monetizing with Adsense or other click services. You call them "MFAs" because you know the shame that term brings, but in reality, you are just envious that you weren't smart enough to target the keywords before I did.
And you are dead wrong when you say that readers who engage with content are less likely to click ads. The truth is, people who click ads rarely if ever see the content, good or otherwise.
The best adsense sites have a 100% bounce rate and on page time of less than 2 seconds. No engagement there bud.
If someone engages my content, then they are info addicted and not buying anyway, they are welcome to stay and read what I write.
BTW-- my content is good because I say it is... don't be judgmental or high minded Stoney. How many articles on this site are just the same re-hashed fluff you see on Problogger everyday? Should we judge you, or should we accept it because you "take the high road?"
AL

To be clear, I think you're misinterpreting the Wired article when you claim "Demand cut loose their quality control editors because it's cheaper without them... No quality control, no verification, no oversight."

Having scouted out several of these "content producers" on my own, as a prospective freelance writer for some of these sites, I can say that Demand has a respectably rigorous quality control process, and goes far beyond general user-generated content sites. There absolutely is oversight in the process. It may not be Shakespeare, but it's not Yahoo! Answers.


I'm not sure how I can be "dead wrong" when you go on to prove my point exactly. You don't want readers to engage in your content so they will click the ad. That makes them less engaged and more likely to click, which is exactly what I said.

I'm sure your content is very helpful, insightful and intellectual. Too bad you don't want anyone to read it.

As for the rehash comment. You can't rehash what you don't read (I don't read problogger). But I will admit to rehashing myself. I write what I know and, guess what? People read it. I like it that way.

Very interesting take on things, and I'd have to agree with you. As a matter of fact, if I think to many of the conversations that take place on the Digital Point forums, I'd have to say that there's an overwhelming number of people decrying the bad writing that they see and much of what's pumped out there, all for the purpose of populating sites to get people to click on Adsense ads.

Then again, I'm not sure who to blame for this. Everyone deserves to make a buck, so it's hard to blame the people cranking this stuff out for very little money, and it's hard to blame the people who accept the low quality stuff because it's making them money. I figure the best most of us can hope for is that there will be readers who will find a way to separate quality from quantity and eventually decide which one they want more.

One of the prettiest articles I have ever read and too much informative. These MFA sites are too much irritating and Google has not done any thing yet to discourage them and professionals are really suffering a lot.

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