Web payola and blogola – it’s alive and well

Posted by & filed under Misc.

A few weeks ago I got an offer of an “ads placement” for one of my other domains. Given that I outgrew the “I’ll blog, get tons of readers and be rich!” phase a looong time ago, right after realizing that most internet users have more important things to do than reading my rants (yay, some people have a life!), this was unexpected. Blogging these days is mostly about self-expression and exercise of free speech than getting rich, so getting seemingly legitimate offer of a “link/ad placement” did surprise me.

Cautiously optimistic, I did write back to see what were the terms and conditions. Was it some sort of adult material peddler that, for some reason, needed boost on weird combo of key words that my old blogs managed to provide? Or something even worse?

No, the offer was for normal content — gaming, travel, things like that. But, there was a big “but”. Company wanted to “place the ads/text” without marking them as advertising. Representative promised that text would be written by professionals and stylistically it would be similar to my “current content” (you mean you actually hire non-English speakers who write semi-coherent rants? Neat!).

After a short exchange of “I mark ads as ads” and “But research indicates this form of linking gets more clicks than banner ads/links marked as ads” that particular episode was over, but it did make me think about rising tide of search engine spam and fake content. Risking a $11000 fine from FTC (see guidelines here[PDF]) for a chance to earn $100 a year? No, thanks. But the worst part is to have your site join the lying cheating chorus of paid-for pages claiming “teeth whitening miracle” (that miraculously empty out your wallet), some break-through way to earn thousands of dollars at home while being a single mom (not possible even physiologically for me) or a miracle cure for fat beer-gut. Disgusting.

What disappoints me the most is the fact that Google (and other ad networks) don’t seem to want to stop the flow of fake “user generated content” and deceptive ads. Oh sure, if enough people complain, a particular ad can be booted from the network, but it just gets recreated again and again. Fake blogs with one or two records about how supplier A of some diet pills is a scam, but supplier B is a sure thing are all over the internet. And despite all Google’s artificial intelligence, links to this fake content get thoroughly indexed and allowed in paid ads.

Any forum/comment system is constantly bombarded by robo-posts with such scammy links. Cybersquatters blast anyone who mistypes any common domain with whole “links sites”. And at the center of it all — advertising networks, getting a cut from all these shady link-selling deals.

Google already claims that ads are screened, but fake diet “news” paid links are still all over google.com and other sites. So much for human screening. And as much as I hate litigation, I wonder if it will take some freshly scammed granny, that clicked on those links but despite promises didn’t get 20 pounds lighter, $4000 a month richer nor became extra muscly, to sue ad network that allowed scam artist to find the victim.

Then suddenly filtering will be more effective, and “loose weight fast” type of ads will disappear for a few months. But they’ll be back, and show up in most unexpected places. Beware!

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