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I watched the movie Titanic with Leo and Kate on Friday night. It’s a good movie and afterwards I was interested to learn more about the tragedy so I Googled up some answers. As I progressed through page after page something started to bother me. I had trouble finding the real content because there was Google AdSense in all the most prominent places on EVERY site I visited. It wasn’t until I hit the “clean” Wikipedia entry on the Titanic that I finally got some valuable information.
Google has to be commended for providing one of the best ways to monetize a website. It’s so good because even the most average Webmaster can easily cut and paste some code to start earning some cash from their web property. Even sites that have a clear purpose and real content still apply some AdSense here and there for the “extra cash” that can be earned. Afterall you would rather someone clicked AdSense ads on your site when they exit so you get your 20 cents.
The problem is that when a webmaster gets a taste for the money suddenly their eyes start to sparkle and you hear that “cha-ching” noise. The possibility dawns – I can make real money on the Internet – and suddenly the motivation behind building the website goes from one of indulging in a hobby to making money. More and more AdSense blocks appear on sites and it becomes harder to find the real content.
Theoretically of course you would think that the AdSense ads themselves should have the content I’m looking for. For me personally I long ago caught “AdSense blindness” unless it’s a very specific Google search. Any AdSense on websites I ignore, just the way I ignored banners in their heyday. Plus most AdSense ads are for products or services relating to my keyword -rarely does an AdSense ad actually provide the best free content about a topic, afterall, the AdWords buyer is usually there to make sales.
Now we are faced with a situation where AdSense is proliferating at an outstanding rate and thousands of webmasters build sites specifically to earn money. Many of these site owners realize that content is still important, so they work hard to locate original content for their sites, but it’s still contrived content – just enough to get some reasonable Google rankings so the traffic starts to trickle in and the AdSense clicks increase. It’s not content created from a genuine interest in the subject. Compare this to a webmaster who hasn’t discovered AdSense yet and builds a site to provide the best content. Money doesn’t come into the motivation equation at all in this case.
But does that matter? Does the quality of our Internet increase or decrease if everyone who publishes a website does it, at least partially, to make money?
If we go back to the days before AdSense people were trying to make money. They did it much the same as they do now – with affiliate programs and CPM banner campaigns – AdSense just added another, very effective monetization method. Perhaps my argument is moot – money will always be part of the motivation.
AdSense made it all too easy. When your average hobbyist can actually see that $5 a day come in there is an immediate impact on their motivation. The taste of the money is so much more tangible because the results are quick and easy. It’s because banner ads and affiliate marketing are generally harder for novices to have significant success with that they don’t spark the same far-reaching penetration that AdSense does.
Maybe Google AdSense will begin to perform poorly for advertisers and “blindness” may become a problem like it did for banners. However I don’t think the impact will ever be significant. The average net user does not see text as advertising and I don’t see that characteristic changing. This means finding the real answer to our questions may become harder and harder as more site owners drown their content with AdSense to make money. I find that quite ironic considering Google came about as a better alternative to finding answers to questions.