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.
It'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.
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.
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